An ode to the independent coffee house
CIN Weekly has a special this week on the new wave of post-Starbucks generation of coffee houses. These cozier, often independent, establishments aren’t brewing to become the next McCoffee; they’re smaller in scale and tend to place their emphasis squarely on the coffee.
I’m a big fan of independent coffee houses, although ironically, I dislike coffee and many coffee-inspired specialty drinks - give me a steamed soy milk or a cup of Earl Gray any day. Rather what draws me to indie coffee houses is the atmosphere.
The coffee shops I frequent feature a blend of old architecture and modern, comfortable furniture and artsy décor. The works of local artists adorn the walls and the not-too-loud music is alternative and soothing. The seating is cozy, with a mix of tables and comfy armchairs you can just sink into and sip away your troubles. And of course, the shop must offer free wireless internet access.
I wiled away many a late night during my undergraduate years at UC at The Buzz in Clifton. The Jack Kerouac of the coffee shop world, The Buzz offered a Bohemian, laid-back atmosphere. When it closed in January of 2004, many Buzz regulars were left coffee shop-less and out in the cold.
The Buzz remained empty for the next three years, but now a new coffee shop promises to reopen its doors there as Taza. Both the website and a sign promise the shop will open soon, with the hours of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. I’ve contacted the owners for a specific opening date, but no word back yet.
The Buzz’s closing forced me to find a new coffee shop home and for the past several years, I’ve made it at Sitwell’s. The Clifton shop offers free internet access and an eclectic atmosphere, not to mention a mean bowl of homemade vegetarian mushroom soup. And Sitwell’s occupies a fond place in the memories of my husband and I – it was the place where we first met in person after meeting online.
Most recently, I’ve discovered Mammoth Café at 505 Monmouth St. in Newport. Not only does the shop offer a well-lit, comfortable atmosphere and free internet access, it also offers lots of vegetarian breakfast and lunch offerings. Owner Linda Marshall, who has degrees in both business and culinary school, bought the shop in 2006. She formerly managed Joseph Beth’s Bronte Bistro. Mammoth’s only drawback is its limited hours – the shop closes at 3 p.m. weekdays and is closed on Monday.
My co- Hometown reporter Shauna Steigerwald recently wrote about a popular Westside dig, College Hill Coffee. The shop’s fame recently spread after it was featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip "The Dinette Set," which runs in The Enquirer.
What are some of your favorite local coffee houses? What makes a coffee house truly great?