by Rich Rubin
I love a good coffeehouse. This statement won’t come as a surprise to those who know me. For those who have read my stories in Passport and wondered “where does he get the energy to visit all those places?”, now you know the answer. For me, a coffeehouse is more than just a place to quickly caffeinate. It’s a bit of culture, a gathering spot, a way to while away the hours in the company of those who also appreciate the sacred java. Sometimes you want coffee and a quick bite rather than a full or formal meal, or just a place to kill an unexpected hour of free time. That’s why the coffeehouse is there.
While it might seem more of a European institution, I’m going to focus on places closer to home. I could spend several columns, after all, detailing the fabulous coffeehouses of Vienna, or traveling to such Italian coffee meccas as Rome, Naples, Trieste, or Turin, but now I’d like to show you some of the great spots we have right here and tell you why I think they’re great.
It’s not just a matter of having good coffee, though that’s obviously a requirement. A great coffeehouse needs more: a comfortable ambience and a friendly, welcoming air, a feeling that you’re invited to stay a while, whether alone or with friends. That’s an important aspect of coffeehouse culture. I’ll never forget checking out a new spot in New York with my Austrian friend Gabrielle. We walked in the door, and her first comment was, “But where are the coatracks?” I was startled until I realized that coatracks = hang up your coat = stay a while. I also remember going to another place I’d heard about, I forget in what city, and as I pulled up to the strip mall I saw a sign saying “Coffeehouse parking only. Limit 15 minutes.” That is a place that didn’t get it right. Here are some places that do get it right:
In Forestville, a tiny town along Northern Califirnia’s Russian River, is this sweet little spot, with some of the best coffee you’ve ever tasted and the nicest staff in the history of coffeehouse staffs. It’s so quintessentially Northern California, I smile every time I enter. The list of drinks (from espresso and their “world famous cold brew” to fancier concoctions) is penned on a surfboard that hangs above the service bar. Signs offer a 50-cent discount if you bike there or bring your own cup. Two indoor tables are supplemented by more outdoors. You’re likely to find more locals than visitors, though the latter are certainly welcome. Join in the conversation with the drinkers or staff or just plunk yourself at an alfresco table for a while. Take home a bag of their organic coffee (my faves: Italiano and Mexicano). The small-batch roasting makes a great brew even if you’re not in the charming café. When your friends say, “where did you get this fabulous coffee?” you can either point them to the website or convince them to visit. I’d opt for the latter. (6656 Front St., Forestville CA. Tel: 707-887-2323. www.sunshinecoffeeroasters.com
GOTHAM COFFEE ROASTERS
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
About as big as a postage stamp, it’s a prototypical New York spot, almost hidden among the other storefronts on 19th Street in New York’s Flatiron District, but a delight once you finally find it. Coffee from their own roastery in Brooklyn is rich and smooth, available in such drinks as a Snakebite (espresso over dark chocolate) or Undertow (espresso over cold milk) or, of course, a just-as-satisfying cup of Brooklyn Blend or Red Hook Espresso. A scattering of tables allows you to look out at the street action or gaze back into the clean-lined little salon. Marble-topped tables and wood floors give an old-fashioned hint to what’s otherwise a thoroughly hip and modern place. These are people who know their stuff, coffee-wise, as is evidenced by the courses they offer in “coffee cupping” and barista training. If you’d rather just be a patron, though, that works too. With its convenient location at the crossroads of east and west sides, it’s a haven of friendliness and amazingly good coffee, and I guarantee you’ll find plenty of occasions to revisit. (23 W. 19th St., New York, NY . Tel: 212-2552972. www.gothamcoffeeroasters.com)