I've always been suspicious of coffee houses.
Perhaps I sense the presence of something shady lurking beneath that warm, fuzzy facade. Perhaps it's the disorientation and claustrophobia I experience when forced to choose between 31 variations of coffee. Maybe I miss getting carded at the door. But whatever it is, as far as coffee houses go, I'm on the outside looking in.
Literally. Usually it's looking in the window of Cup-A-Joe's from afar, namely my spy perch upon the porch of the Longbranch Saloon.
From this inconspicuous location, I've spent many an hour studying the hazy silhouettes of coffee devotees doing, well, whatever it is they do. I envision intellectuals bantering over philosophy, picture poets scribbling sonnets on napkins and, at times,
I swear I can pick out the cast of Friends. But between the bar and the coffeehouse lies a four-lane cultural fault line that, until now, I have never dared traverse.
The mission: Coffee house crackdown.
The strategy: Coffee crawl (a spin-off of the pub crawl, a tactic in which I am quite well-trained).
Armed with a notepad, a few bucks and a couple of friends with nothing better to do, we set out on our stealth operation.
After crossing Cumberland Avenue in a Frogger-like fashion, we entered the first venue on our hit list - Cup-A-Joe's. While I cased the joint, my comrades ordered a round of espresso, indifferent to my McGyver-esque moves. I slunk around, eavesdropping on conversations which were, surprisingly, exceptionally normal.
My "coffee houses are only for smart kids" hypothesis blown, I resigned myself to the task of incognito observation. Although a couple of individuals were engrossed in academic-type activities, the majority were clustered around tables with friends. And, hey, were those beer taps behind the bar?
Crumbling preconceived notions warranted further investigation.
At our next stop, Golden Roast, I immediately got down to the business of interrogation.
"What's the big idea?" I demanded, before bashfully fessing up to my coffee naivety.
Eager to impart his wisdom, the friendly coffee tender gave me a guided tour of the beans and an iced mocha latte, a delicious coffee-on-the-rocks concoction.
Meanwhile, our caffeine levels were rapidly inflating. High on coffee and conversation, we continued our crawl to the 11th Street Expresso House. This led to a spirited investigation of Old City coffee houses, which inevitably culminated in a pitcher (or two) of Barley's cider, which resulted in a startlingly brilliant realization - "A drink is a drink is a drink."
In other words, nightlife has a sociopolitically charged agenda. There is bar culture, coffee house culture and subcultures within each. But all are structured upon a universal premise; that is, uniting humanity in the spirit of a beverage.
We realized our evening had been spent crashing through cultural boundaries, building a bridge between beer and coffee upon which we were now proudly standing, waving our flag of unity, ordering another round of cider, or latte, or capbeerchino...
This story has many morals, including the following:
1. Too many shots of anything, including espresso, can have unfortunate ramifications.
2. Be open minded. Roam beyond the confines of your usual context. Try something new this weekend.
And if coffee houses don't sound exciting enough to suit your tastes, keep in mind that even they kick up their heels every once in a while. Several offer live music and open mic nights on weekends, including Fairbanks, Java Old City, 11th Street and New City Cafe.
May all of your glasses be half-full, of whatever, this weekend.
Spy mission reveals secrets
Published: Fri Feb 22, 2002 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 04:06 p.m.