Friday, August 19, 2005

The Happiest Place on Earth

I had to pick up my father in law from the airport last night at 11:30 pm. The wife was apologetic for the late night errand but as she drives Number One Son to school in the morning, it all works out. The fact of the matter is, ever since I was a kid, a trip to the airport was like a mini, imaginary vacation, just being surrounded by all the comings and goings, I could pretend that I was on my way to the great "anywhere but here". Now that I've got two kids of my own, those fantasy excursions are that much more meaningful.

On the way, I decided I needed a cup - another fantasy excursion. I stopped by Monkey Bean, a small hole in the wall joint on S. Broadway, in an area where 5 years ago it would have been unheard of to put a coffee shop, and a couple of blocks East, it still would be. Monkey Bean reminds me of those late nights of my youth at pre-Starbucks domination coffee houses like Paris on the Platte and Muddy's, places that made me feel like, even though I was 20 minutes from my folks place in the 'burbs, I'd been somewhere. The decor of the place is like the apartment of that penniless bohemian friend who hung out on the fringes of your social circle, who nonetheless made his digs look like a million bucks. The mismatched furniture seen better days, just as coffeehouse furniture should be (I'm talking to you, Scooter Joe); it fits like a cocoon and is all part of the aesthetic.

But alas, in the Denver of my youth, this vibe at a coffeehouse came with a price. Too often one had to choose between an exemplary cup of coffee in the comfortable yet calculated deco atmosphere of a "Brio" (if you don't remember them, think "Ink", with the red hues bled from it's decor) , or the Boho Euphrates/Muddy's/Paris archetype. (to be fair, only Bauhaus Coffee in Seattle has delivered me the best of both worlds... And even that was perhaps due to my adoration of the Pacific Northwest in 1994).

Last night at "The Monkey" I asked what they were brewing. "Dark and Light", answered the attractive, spikey bleached coffeegirl.

"What's the dark?"

"(possessive Proper Noun) Blend"

"And what's in that?" I asked.

"It's the dark." she answered cheerfully, if confused.

I decided to go for if, if for no other reason than the fact that she was almost out, and I'd be waiting for just a few moments for a fresh pot. And a trip to a place like Monkey Bean is ALL about the atmosphere, I figured. Coffeegirl helpfully filled my cup with the remainder of the dark while I waited. Great, I figured, luke-warm, bottom-of-the-pot mystery brew. To my delight, I got four ounces of piping hot, suprisingly good brew to sip on while I waited for the equally good warm up.

(And the quality of the coffee's not an anomaly; the simple salads and sandwiches beat the old coffee house mystery-cheese platter, hands down. And the vacation feel isn't elitist or exclusive - my son can kill as much time playing the community board games as I can perusing the tattered paperbacks.)

As I sat, I noticed the crowd, specimen's preserved perfectly from my own all nite coffeehouse days... and one guy who really was a customer of mine, back when I was a barista. And though too much time has passed to attempt a catch up, and I needed to get moving to the airport, my heart warmed to the fact that I'm not the only aging Generation X'er who's not willing to give up the ghost of this singular kind of haunt; a perfect vacation spot for my whole family, or for just me, myself and I. A place that transports me not just to a different place, but time as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I am pretty serious about my coffee.

There are a lot of complicated factors to consider when you're going out for coffee. Quality of beans, skill of baristas, hotness of hipster coffee goddess driving the espresso machine; is this your morning cup or are you out at night? With a date or your tattered notebook? What day of the week is it ?(i.e., on a weekday, any "alternative" music which can't be heard on "alternative" radio is appropriate. Sunday morning, jazz or mellow ambient, and if you're unsure the mellowness of your ambient, stick w/ Jazz. ) I mix up where I go for my morning coffee a coupla times a month, just to stimulate the old noggin from thinking I'm an extra in "Groundhog Day". Some people define themselves by their hobbies ("Hobbies? I've got two kids!") Some by their job ("Uh... no.") . Me... I define myself by my vices - and I quit smoking 4 months ago.

This morning I decided I wanted iced coffee for my wake-me-up. No, I wanted good iced coffee, which is a little bit trickier. While I will begrudgingly cop to the fact I can stomach just about any coffee chain's sugary sweet Frozenated Coffee Beverage (TM), that's just not okay in the morning. And sure, I can trust any of my regular haunts to, at the very least, serve me up an appropriate iced americano, but that's not what I'm talking about. I could try someplace new, but there's no garauntee that I won't have refrigerated "Coffee of the (yester)Day" poured into my plastic glass. Hell, go to any area Diedrich's location, and that's the BEST you'll get; you could get HOT coffee poured on your ice. And if Herr Diedrich himself is there he'll tell that's the only "correct" way to make it (however it is that they're making it that day).

Then he'll blather incessantly about how he's decended from a pantheon from Germanic demigods.

But I digress; there are, in my experience, only a handful of java joints in the metro area which make iced coffee the way it should be served - with a Toddy coffee maker. One of those, Scooter Joe's, is spitting distance from my route to work. I was so excited at the prospect of the smooth, chocolate hinted taste that I didn't think twice when I missed my turn and had to drive around the block to get to the parking lot, even though I was already running a little late for work. And the coffee was most definitely worth it.

But it begs the question, and I for the life of me can't put my finger on the anwser... why don't I like Scooter Joe's MORE than I do?

Drive down Lincoln at night and you can't miss in the picture window, the lighting and color scheme give the scene a (pleasant) yellowing, antique feel, like an old photograph. A real urban vibe that the bars in town try to emulate, but are way too Aurora-attempting-to-be-Cherry-Creek glamorous to achieve (see "Funky Buddha" up the block).

Inside, I've never had a bad drink, and the Coffeegirls this morning (one whippit thin, tatoos peeking from behind the straps of her tank top, the other with shy eyes and that kind of unintentionally flirty smile which no doubt makes her the target of advances from hopeful guys who are nowhere near her league; both with dishevled, anti-grav hair) were/are everything a coffee slut like myself could ask for. And of course they've got the weekly rags and plenty of seating.

Maybe it's just too clean - it should be more living room and less sitting room. Or the furniture that's meant to look old, but you know cost a ton, that's been a coffee house cliche since "Friends" (I can think of 5 other places off the top of my head that are WAY worse about this than Joe's, though) Also, the way they push the "scooter" theme seems a little convoluted... if the owners and/or employees are enthusiasts, that's great - that vibe in and of itself should bring some clubs in. But Monkey Bean down Broadway has become a haven for motorcyclists without putting "Wheelie" in it's name or a Triumph on it's roof.

It's inviting enough, though, and the coffee and assorted drinks got it where it counts. Maybe once it's all more worn in, this won't just be a "run in and out" in the morning kind of place, but a "let's go meet for coffee" kind of place.

Okay, so I'm DEADLY serious about my coffee.