Whew. Been awfully busy here at work the last few weeks, causing me to unhappily put the blog on hiatus. (I've missed you, too, Cas)
On the bright side, if you're looking for some wit and wisdom on where to go to get a cuppa, it seems like everywhere you look nowadays, coffee is back in the popular consciousness. Jason Sheehan reviewed Monkey Bean last week in the Westword. Dave Flomberg revealed his somewhat questionable taste in java joints in the Rocky Mountain News. (Michaelangelo's? Really? Dude, I've had a better capuccinos at 7-11) Faring better is one of my favorite entertainment writers in town, Ricardo Baca, discussing Leela European Cafe in the Denver Post, inspiring me to give the place another look.
I have, as a rule, a 3 strikes policy as far as coffeehouses are concerned; and that applies only after it's passed my stringent, if entirely subjective, criteria as to whether it's a coffee house (vs. an espresso bar like "Ink" or cafe like "Taza De Cafe") at all. (I.E., how late is it open? How likely is it that someone would hang out for an hour or more? How hot are the girls making the drinks?) I was pretty jazzed when I heard that a 24/7 joint was going to be opening up, and even more pleased with the fact that it would be right down town. It seems that with every passing year, there are less and less good reasons for cow town locals to go into "The City Proper", which is turning into more of a city-themed amusement park, with bars and clubs catering to tourists and girls from Littleton looking to make out with a second, or maybe third-string Bronco. I appreciate that this has caused Capitol Hill, "Uptown", and even my own digs, at the southern most tip of "Sobo" (yeah, I said it) to create their own identities. Still, I miss places like City Spirit Cafe and the original St. Marks, where I could stroll out, high on moonlight, and take in the towering buildings, thanking the stars that I worked at the espresso bar on the bottom floor, and not in the offices above.
"Cozy" is an oft-over used adjective when you're in the coffeehouse reviewing biz, but there's no risk of it springing to mind, in Leela's case. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just that Leela's enormous, utilitarian space with it's high ceilings seems more conducive to storing top secret UFO's than sitting with your knitting group and sipping lattes. Luckily, for me, I don't knit. And the fact of the matter is, the "Lovely Latte Ladies Auxillary" would never approve, seeing as there's no "No Smoking" section, and a well stocked bar is more immediately noticeable than anything indicating you're in a coffee shop.
Regardless of the overwhelming space, my first 2 visits to Leela left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Anytime you have a joint that's open all night long (regardless of how badly I want it to succeed), you risk taking on that underfed, gutter-punk aesthetic (see: Cafe Netherworld on 13th and Penn) And while my all-time favorite bars(City Spirit, Thin Man and Cafe Cero, in it's earlier incarnation) have a sort of cafe vibe, having a coffeehouse that serves hard liquor this close to the 16th Street Mall, along with the smoke 'em if you got 'em atmosphere, can be a risky endeavor, (that I'm sure the baristas have compiled some war stories about).
But you know what? On my last visit to Leela, I got the feeling that these guys are gonna make it work. Sure, I was a little skeptical when the kid sitting next to me at the bar told me he hated cooking, only to find out that he works AT Leela. But a few more minutes of small talk with him and the cute young barista behind the counter, and I found myself smitten with the place. Maybe it's because it wasn't so lonely as it's been in the past, customers being the most important decoration you can have in a big space like this... and they weren't just folks treating the place like the Mile High Smoking Section. Maybe it was the fact that "The Chef" told me their busiest time is after the clubs close, and I love the thought of there being an alternative to Pete's Kitchen and Denver Diner right outside the door of a club, even if it's a some Lodo "shake your junk" club that I'd never be caught dead in.
I'm not usually the type to give advice to somebody on how to run their business. Especially with coffehouses... why bother? If you don't have "it" when you open your doors, the sad fact is that you're probably not gonna find it anytime before you go out of business. So that I'm offering advice to Leela here is a compliment, because I honestly think they're off to a good start, and I desperately want Denver to prove it's cool enough for an all-night coffeehouse.
First, find a local roaster. Hell, even Dazbog will do; it won't make an immediate impact on your business, but it'll speak volumes to the "support your local (fill-in-the-blank)" townies like myself who'll ultimately be your regulars. Second, you've got a great space for entertainment... but you've got to handle that delicately.
Lastly, it's a shame about your name... my grandmother in law is named Lola, I hope they don't make her change it, too. Leela just doesn't roll of the tongue the same way. How about Lulu? Lulabelle? Maybe Leeloo, after the futuristic hipster from "The Fifth Element"?
But what do I know, you're lucky enough to do this stuff for a living. Maybe someday one of the local rags will want to hire somebody to write reviews of local java joints. Until then, I gotta get back to the grind...
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7 years ago