Monday, December 19, 2005


My love of all things coffee begins with Paris on the Platte. I was 17 years old, wearing a turtle neck and a bared... but I swear, it wasn't intentional. The beret was an accoutrement I used to cover my premature bald spot when my new wave combover wasn't working out.

We waited for half an hour for the train to pass in order to reach our destination; back then, that was the only way to get to the spot, which was tucked back in an uber industrial pocket of the city. It was there that I had my first cappuccino, poured from a big black pitcher that was left at the table to share with friends. I remember expecting the thick dollop of foam on top, powdered with cinnamon, to be sweeter than it was... Instead, it was scalding hot and dark and bitter and exactly as it should be... I fell instantly in love. The cavernous red brick club house was beyond my Shirley Feeney scarf dance-infested dreams.

The joint was my second home through my early 20's. The monolithic cement viaducts towering above the cafe were being torn down by then. Surreal remnants of the bridges, palates for graffiti artists, loomed above the Platte river like landing pads for UFO's on an intergalactic road trip. They were being removed to make way for urban expansion, the much lauded coming boom that would arrive with the baseball stadium. I remember staring up at them from Paris' front patio, thinking that Denver was being made. This, I thought, was the place to be.

Since then, between Paris and Union Station, the lazy train station which serves arrivals and departures to Chicago, Glenwood Springs, a couple of Ski Towns and pretty much nowhere else, there has sprouted "Riverfront Park", an entire prefab urban neighborhood where there was once just train tracks in disrepair. Housing starting from the one-millions, taylor made for a whole subset of urban dweller that the Mile High City didn't cater to until about 12 years ago, Denver not being a hip enough city for advertising executive types. My inner sci-fi geek can't help but love the squeaky clean, hyper-geometric, Logan's Run-esque design, even as I fear the microscopic nanotech robots that built it overnight. In the bottom floor is the obligatory coffee shop, a smaller-than-a-Starbucks but bigger than an indie joint who's design follows the motif... all flowing, dark red metal and cool cement. Comfortable in a take-off-your-jetpack-and-log-onto-your-laptop kind of way. If Riverfront was a ground-up ultra mod prefab out in one of the suburbs, Ink would be the kind of place that would serve only the tenants, who's homes are like storefronts in a high end shopping mall. As it is, the Riverfront complex is heavy traffic area, directly across from the Platte River trail and the state's largest free skate park.

And Paris on the Platte.

So there it is. That dichotomy, between the old and the new, between the past and the future, the comforting and reassuring vs. the human fascination with shiny objects.

My wife talked me down from my idea to do a month long "Supersize Me" style binge, taking all my calories from local coffeehouses. Instead, I've decided to review the food at these two well established but disparate joints.

I went with the family this weekend to Ink. The wife ordered the Tuscan Salad, and I got a large coffee with a shot of espresso, and swiped a couple of bites off her plate, much to her usual chagrin. The coffee at Ink is one of the best, most consistent cups you can get in town; that's true whether you're getting the drip or an espresso drink. The baristas are highly competent, and know how to pull an impeccable shot. The guys behind the counter are refreshingly humble, devoid of the cockiness that you find at some of the other shops in town. The girls are friendly without being flirty, with subtle peircings that let you know that, even though this is place is big business, it's not too big for it's britches, and realizes that even high end customers like getting served by the mildly freaky. The food here is a surprising anomaly, especially for an express espresso bar without a waitstaff. The Tuscan Salad is fantastic; freshly grilled chicken, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, with a dense piece of bread that makes the plate into a sort of deconstructed sandwich.

The atmosphere at Ink is also surpisingly diverse, giving the joint a more indie feel than you'd expect than if you just walked by outside. There's always a business meeting going on inside, bikers and rollerbladers who roll in from off the path, and tourists from all over the world checking out the towering bridge outside. On a visit over the summer, there was even a huge tribe of scooterists stopping for coffee before their ride, while an independent film was being shot out on the street, giving the place, and the surrounding area, an honest to G-d big city vibe. In the end, there's only one thing I would change, and that's the music. No, I don't expect to hear the Pixies or Portishead, necessarily, but something other than Billy Ocean et. al, would be nice. Note to Herbie... you can't go wrong w/ Jazz...

On Monday, I rode my bike over to Paris for lunch. Ah, Paris in the wintertime. I'd like to say that it never changes, but something just feels inherently wrong with going to POTP on a weekday afternoon. Where are the gutter punk kids setting the stir-sticks on fire, watching the plastic liquefy and drip into the ashtray? Where's the smell of cloves wafting though the with the smoke?

On the bright side, the music is exactly as it should be, which is to say, entirely random. Social Distortion mixes into Bob Dylan segues to OutKast. The coffee arrived quickly and was filled repeatedly, as soon as the cup was down to half full. So far, so good.

I went to the bathroom while waiting for my food; alas, some things never change... the ads for this place should read "Paris on the Platte... No Door On The Crapper Since 1986." I believe it to be some sort of systematic humiliation - the whippet thin employees don't produce solid waste, subsisting as they do on coffee and cigarettes, why should you be able to do so without any feelings of remorse?

Back at the table, I started in on my food. The grub at Paris is best described as "utilitarian". The sandwich was dry (a real trick, considering it was hummus, about the most damp sandwich ingredient there is) and was served with the kind of corn chips that you buy bulk from Sam's Club. It made me think of this 1960's educational film I saw on AVGEEKS.COM the other day, called "Coffeehouse Rendevous" where all the hip and cool kids got together and made coffee shops in their basements to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, where the food was whatever your mom wouldn't miss from the kitchen cubbard.

gee, beav, that funny cigarette you gave me makes me feel all goofy...

In the end, I'm not really saying anything that would surprise the "Parisians of the Platte"... they know their food's an afterthought. They know you're there for the music and the free refills. Just like I'm sure the folks behind the counter at Ink don't go home and listen to "Now That's What I Call Music '84", and would scoff at the idea of the bottomless cup.

But in the end, I'm happy they're both able to survive. I don't know if I could, without just a little of each.


MrDanger said...
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totalvo said...

Ah the good ole days of paris on the platte