Friday, February 17, 2006

Triple Shot (three short reviews)

Various members of my family have been going through various degrees of sick lately, meaning that a full night's sleep has been somewhat elusive. One morning, about a week ago, a few hours after my daughters middle of the night feeding, and a few of those miserable, near waking minutes prior to my alarm clock Wah Wah Wah'ing! me into full consciousness, I was having one of those false awakening... those pseudo-lucid moments, where you're convinced that you've already gotten up, showered, fixed your oatmeal, and made it out the door. Except in this one, I could see with perfect, vivid clarity, an image of myself sitting at the Dazbog on Speer, (a place that I hadn't been to in a couple of months) sipping a perfect double shot from a porcelain demitasse (the only way to drink straight espresso, no matter what kind of hurry you're in. Even in my dreams I'm a stickler for such things)

Well, I'm psychic. Within an hour, I was doing precisely that. Mad props go to the girl at the register - a verifiable Coffeecrush, with her blonde bob and cat-eye glasses, she reminds me of Lisa Loeb on that show, but actually cute and goofy and independent, not just a self absorbed twit - for remembering that I used to order a coffee w/ a shot (redeye, shot-in-the-dark, "Keith Richards", etc.) But that day, I needed it straight, like a liquid defibulator. And special mention goes to the sweet faced barista, for pulling just the shot I had dreamed about.

Ever since then, any time I've got a couple extra minutes in the morning, I've gone out of my way to get 2, or 4, or sometimes, if it's a dire emergency, 6 ounces of pure awakening. "Little cups of black coffee, strong as heroin" as Douglas Copeland said in Generation X.


For Valentine's day, Mrs. X bought me a coffee card for "Perk and Pub". I was generally unimpressed with their original location near Washington Park, a little hole in the wall only slightly bigger than the Laundromat next door. But I've since discovered the Uptown P and P, which used to be Sweet Rockin' Coffee, one of those open mike places that scared away the paying customers. The space is comfortable, but it'll be nice when time takes it's toll and gives the place a more lived in feel. They have a nice long bar at the front, ideal for small talk w/ the baristas and a few quick sips to start the day.

The owner (?) manager (?) was nice enough, since I like a few raw sugars in my espresso, to make it up Cuban-style for me, brewing the grounds and sugar together, in the porta-filter. This is the first time I've had it that way, as I've always heard an urban legend that the sugar can possibly gum up the machine. The "Uptown" is currently only open until 2 pm, but there are signs stating that the location will soon be offering beer and wine and they'll have entertainment at night. I've recently acquired a taste for the vino, so I think this'll make a nice "grown up" date kind of place for me and the Mrs.


So there I was, in my review of Leela, pissing and moaning about the lack of 24 hour joints in our fair city, only to come across an article in the Capitol Hill paper about Aviano Coffee, located on Lincoln, in one of those upscale prefabs that look like a cross between an exceptionally large home in Highland's Ranch and something out of Tim Burton's Batman.

Aviano boasts that it will be open 'round the clock, Friday thru Sunday (to be fair, the only time in Denver you really need to be open 24 hours) Much ado is made of Aviano's dedication to the art of coffee and barista culture. Waiting for my espresso, I read a sign about the "head barista" a guy who apparently has placed 7th in a national barista competition. Pangs of jealousy set in as I read on; I've heard the reverent stories of professional baristas in Italy, artisans in a respected profession. I always dreamed of that sort of respect when I was a coffee jockey. Alas, I'm doubtful that level of "groupiness" will ever exist on this side of the Atlantic, but they'll get it from me... my triple espresso, no more than three ounces (as it should be) was EXCEPTIONAL. Easily on par with any I've gotten from Kaladi Bros. (My usual vote for best trained baristas) And that's saying something, seeing as they use the bulk roasted (though still good quality) beans from Allegro. Not only that, they use a completely manual machine, like their Italian forefathers. My only complaint is with the atmosphere. Considering the shop's proximity to Broadway, the late weekend nights will bring in the posers and frat boys from The Church / Vinyl / Funky Buddha (I feel less hip for even typing that last one), and the stock Italian prints are something of a buzz kill. Some minor touches and some appropriate acid jazz / trip hop selections should help to bring some true cool into the lives of Regas Christou's minions.

So there it is, folks, 3 more reasons to not go to Starbucks. Get out and keep these guys in business!

Friday, February 10, 2006


Yesterday, while perusing Craigslist, I came across an a "coffeeshop for sale" ad. This was a straight forward, turn key deal; walk in, hand the previous owners a mere $5,000 (!), hop behind the counter, pull a couple of shots, start a-steaming the milk and commence sneering at the customers when they ask for their soy chai. I'm in no position at this juncture in my life to attempt such an undertaking, but when I saw that the location was in Congress Park, I knew just where it was (this will be their 3rd owner in the last 2 years), so I had to go check it out.

Lo and behold, by the time I got there, there was already a quite obviously new, makeshift sign hanging above the door. The inside is spacious yet intimate, perfect for a neighborhood joint, and quite a lot could be done with it. Unfortunately, the hours posted out front say it all; the joint closes at 5 pm, meaning that this will be one more $8 sandwich shop with an espresso machine gathering dust alongside the cash register. I wish the best for the new owner, I really do. As someone who managed a coffeeshop in that neighborhood at one time, the best advice I can give is, no matter how much the misguided clientele tries to berate you into serving Southwestern Style Sprout Salad and organically grown, herbal-icious healing teas, what Congress Park REALLY needs is a decent coffeeshop. And I believe it can happen... look at the mustard yellow Diedrich's down the street; one drink of a latte prepared by one of their untrained, slave-wage earning baristas, and you'll know that location really IS everything.

All this has got me thinking about my all time favorite coffee shops, those proto-bohemian places that keep me dreaming of one day having my own joint. I love Denver, I really do. By all accounts, I am a townie. Any time an East-or-West Coaster takes issue with my beloved cowtown, I'm the first to stand up on the defensive. But lately, it's bugged me that I have to choose between atmosphere and a great cup of coffee. I want comfy couches and piles of dog eared books AND a golden crown of crema on top of my triple espresso so rich and creamy that I can use it to shave my head with.

In short... I want Bauhaus Coffee.

1994; "grunge" was in; everyone had seen "Singles" and owned at least one flannel shirt. Like so many other alt-kids around the country, 2 of my compatriots and I "moved" ("visited", briefly, is more like it, but that's another story) to the promised land of Seattle, which at that point was both a noun AND an adjective (the Seattle Sound!/Scene!/Style!)The SECOND we crossed the Washington state line in my 1989 Ford Festiva, Pearl Jam came on the radio and rain fell from the overcast sky.

Hours later, when we pulled into the city, we looked for some landmark to orient us, a starting point, an event horizon like Lady Liberty must've been for our cold, tired and hungry. What we got was Bauhaus.

Bauhaus was then, and a quick Google search will show, now, as much of a Seattle destination as Pike's Place Market or Bruce Lee's grave, but somehow, it managed to maintain the feeling of a speakeasy; it was certainly our clubhouse, where we leafed furiously through The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly desperate for jobs and apartments. A staircase, alongside a honeycomb of books, led up into a loft, overlooking the entire city. If that wasn't enough, this best seat in the house was also the smoking area (which was HUGE for me back then) high enough above the main floor that the people below couldn't bitch.

The menu offered up coffee and all the standard espresso drinks, "Granita" (a pre-Frappucino coffee slush) and a selection of those little itty-bitty boxes of Kellogg breakfast cereals, and That's It. These guys knew what they were there for, they knew what they wanted their business to be, and you knew if you didn't like it, you could walk out the front door and step on a handful of Starbucks. In Seattle, it's law that a good barista can scowl at you with disdain if you tell them you think it would be nifty if they sold hot dogs/personal pan pizzas/greeting cards. And in Seattle, they are ALL good baristas. I myself, full of hope and dreams, kowtowed to the front counter, asking if they "needed any help".

"Nope. But if you have a resume..."

I heard a lot of that over the next 6 weeks that I was there. Sound excessive? When you hear people say Seattle has the best coffee, you'll know it's no mere hyperbole.

Bauhaus was the source of all my best memories in Seattle. I haven't been back in 11 years now, but I know I will go someday. If nothing else, when they spread my ashes there, while Jimmy Summerville's rendition of "Never Can Say Goodbye" blares in the background.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hell, Yes, I am!

You Are an Espresso

At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high