I’m afraid our local coffeehouse is nothing special. The high ceilings and wood floors do little to compensate for the awful home-roasted brew. The baked goods are acceptable, the tea merely potable. I recently brought my son here and watched him over the edge of my book while he sat with legs crossed, picking at crumbs of banana bread and reading Paddington. He likes his Earl Grey with a great deal of sugar and milk.
As an undergraduate in the early ‘90s my friends and I used to frequent a Seattle coffeehouse known as the Last Exit. The baristas were unpleasant, the coffee equally so, but it was still a favorite. Late nights at the Last Exit were smoky, crowded and rowdy. Professors declaimed godlike in crescents of adoring sophomores. Unwashed hipsters plucked guitars beneath high windows. Junior Marxists preached from the corners. Others crowded round tables to watch games of chess or of go, and to whisper philosophically. My friends and I would order our pulpy espresso drinks and sit behind piles of books and papers and pretend to study. It was pretentious as hell, but heaven to us then.
Ten years later a new coffeehouse came to the neighborhood where my wife and I lived. We got to know the owners before they opened shop and my wife became their first employee. Here the coffee was reliably excellent. The locals would wander in to read or talk. There was a piano in the back, and couches. Patrons ranged from age four to eighty-four and old movies were shown once a week, projected onto the wall. Twice a year the owners would throw parties with gobs of fancy food and wine and invite the whole neighborhood. I used to help my wife clean up after closing shifts and we once saw the aurora borealis as we walked home. That was heavenly too.
What’s so wrong with the coffeehouse that serves the neighborhood where we live today? It can’t be just the coffee. The image of my son sitting there with his cup of tea and his feet dangling from the seat might help endear the place to me. But the other patrons all sit alone staring at their laptops, each monopolizing a table for four while snakepits of power cords twist round their ankles. I don’t want to talk to anyone – I’m not an outgoing person or very friendly toward strangers. I just want to feel like there’s someone else in the room.