Saturday, May 13, 2006

South Side!

The wife was out of town this weekend, enjoying some long overdue time to herself, putting aside the role of respectable mommy for a few days and getting reacquainted with the hot mama she was back before diapers and day cares and after school activities became the center of our universe. She got back in Sunday night... I'm glad to have both of them back.

For our part, the kids and I managed pretty well. More importantly, I managed pretty well, juggling a 5 and 1 year old for 96 hours. That said, there's only so much time that a parent can spend one on one, much less two on one, with their children. I decided I'd head down to Colorado Springs to wish my mom a happy mother's day, and to re-distribute the amount of attention the kids would require from me. And of course, to get in a couple of cuppas.

Aside from all the incessant focusing on other people's families, I really like CS. The arts scene and gay community are made all the more vibrant by the fact that they're basically ghettoed in the charming downtown. Yeah, the culture and entertainment options are behind the curve of Denver, but seeing as Denver herself is catching up on the curve behind bigger, more sophisticated cities, that's saying something. The hipsters manage to pull off the mellow, hippy dippy edge that comes across as mere posturing in a town like Boulder; even the Shamanic Hypnotherapist Dreamworkers advertising in the back of the free weekly aren't as affected as the "more-enlightened-than-thou" types in the People's Republic. Not only that, but CS has the highest per capita of African Americans anywhere in Colorado. Unlike Boulder, where squeaky clean white folk outnumber people of color 5 to one.

For a community like Colorado Springs, a coffeehouse is a vital resource - a place where the class clown and other assorted social rejects can begin to see the world from a wider perspective than is offered to them in school (or in the workplace, as the case may be).

The most high profile place to assume this role in the downtown is Pike's Perk, which holds it's own, business-wise, against the Starbucks directly across the street. I appreciate what these guys are doing; fair trade certified coffee; organic milk... but the business has gone under new ownership in the last few years, and I could easily tell the difference from previous visits. When I visited on Saturday, the huge space, a 2 story building with patios on both levels, was nearly devoid of customers, matching the sparsely decorated walls... but merchandise, they got that. You know, if I'm looking to buy a coffee maker, I'll go to Cost Plus. Or Target. But at a place that should be your friendly neighborhood coffee house, home espresso machines that invariably make bitter, burnt coffee are just an eyesore. The trouble continued at the counter; when I ordered an iced coffee, the barista asked me which one I'd like. This sounds innocuous enough, until you realize it translates to "which scalding hot coffee would you like me to use to torture the innocent ice cubes sitting in the bottom of this cup?". Disappointed, I changed my order to an iced americano. Telling someone how to make coffee at their joint is like telling someone how to serve communion at their church; maybe I was in Colorado Springs, but that's not the way I roll.

I fared a little bit better later that afternoon, at Boulder Street Coffee - at least aesthetically. The place seems to be the HQ for the Colorado College subculture kids, and featured some gritty hip hop as an antidote to the Billy Joel playing at Pike's Perk. You know, I even have some nostalgia for early Billy Joel, but it just doesn't sit well with coffee. At least get some Coldplay, or some other inoffensive, so called "Adult Album Alternative" - hell, stroll across to Starbucks and pick up one of their company approved mix CD's, even that would be better than 70's top 40. This time I ordered an iced americano right off the bat, figuring it was a pretty straight forward proposition. The barista asked me how many shots I would like. I felt like offering to put on an apron, go behind the counter, and whip the thing up myself, but I held my tongue.

Le Sigh.

Maybe I'm being harsh; the drinks were okay, and service came with a smile, et cetera, ad infinitum. But the big chains already have the market cornered on consistent mediocrity. And service, even quality aren't the only factors to consider. There's a torch that these places need to carry, particularly in CS. Everywhere you look, you're being told to support local business, to "keep ____ weird". And Colorado Springs, you are weird. Embrace it, love it, live it.

Otherwise, if the big corporations shut you out, you've got nobody to blame but yourself.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Desperately Seeking...

Copy of my ad on Craigslist...

"crush"ing on that barista?

Do you have a thing for the cutie who makes your cappuccino every morning? Do you drop their name in the "missed connection" section, hoping in vein that they'll at least acknowledge your adoration?

COFFEECRUSH ( the World's Greatest Blog, featuring Denver cafe reviews and coffee talk, is seeking submissions for a new feature - COFFEECRUSH OF THE WEEK.

I'm looking for photos of and interviews with beautiful baristas from local coffee shops - addressing the hard-hitting questions that are vital to the cowtown coffeehouse community, like...

Name of Shop-

What would it be called if you owned it?

If you didn't work there, would you hang out there? And if so, what would you be drinking?-

Other Job / Artistic Persuits

Is that your natural hair color?-

All Time Favorite Coffee-house Album-

Most obnoxious drink order / customer request-

make your obsession known... and maybe even break the ice with the object of your affection.

email or visit to submit

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Haunt

The first few visits to a new coffeeshop can be like the early stages of a new relationship. Do you share the same taste in music and books? Are you ideologically and philosophically compatible? Erotically speaking, are you charmed by (or at least tolerant of) one another's various eccentricities and fetishes?

So it's been this last week, ever since I began haunting SML Coffee on the corner of Speer and Washington. The cozy space is essentially a bunch of art deco furniture narrowly situated between two identical garage doors, like a recreation of what Frank Loyyd Wright's carport must've looked like. The drip coffee I ordered from the utilitarian menu on my first visit was hot and fresh, and the folks behind the counter are friendly an un-affected. But as a matter of sheer practicality, since I live in South Denver, I figured we'd just be two ships passing in the night, a one night stand.

Until, that is, I saw the schedule for their "Free Movie Night".

In the past, I've fallen firmly into the "against" camp, as far as the whole "coffee shop as multimedia experience" thing is concerned. Maybe it's a knee jerk reaction to all those times I couldn't find a seat among the cyber squatters with all their high tech accoutrements. But movies are different; instead of everyone being plugged into their own screens, it's a communal, community experience. And if you're not interested in what's showing, the right film can serve as the visual equivalent of ambient music, where attention is optional.

For their inaugural showing, they featured one of my favorites - "Ghost World". Not only is this film
a classic story about living in the post-modern Bardo realm of mid-America, where smart people wait in vein for better things, and learn about their capacity to hurt others in the meantime, but it stars the two slices of bread that make the most delicious Caff_X sandwich, Scarlett Johansen and Thora Birch (tho if it was an open face sandwich, it'd be all Birch, bee-

so hot.

The Wednesday night showing was a casual affair, with just a few of us in the audience. There was plenty of room for more, which means it's up to groupies like me to turn folks on to what a sweet deal this is. The film was projected onto a sheer screen against one of the garage doors... in the summer, the door will be open, turning the parking lot into not only an impropteu drive-in theater, but for you smokers, possibly the city's last remaining smoking section.

(one cine-suggestion; a Halloween screening of Bucket of Blood, where all the employees dress up like beatnicks, would make me a customer 4-eva)

But more importantly (is there anything more important?) -the coffee. Full disclosure - when I hit a new place, I usually order just straight, black coffee. One, because it's my "usual". Two, because once I know a place uses quality beans, and can brew a good pot of coffee, if I ever do get a bad espresso drink, I can pin it on the individual barista, and not hold the establishment as a whole accountable. But there's something about art house movies that just screams "cappuccino". The barista, a female of the species, whipped up the best one I've had in recent memory. To the extent that, when I couldn't sip any more from the bottom of the cup, I was clawing my hand in, so I could kiss the thick froth off of my fingertips.

Could this be love?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust...

"The wisest man is he who admits he knows nothing at all" -Socrates

"he's stupid, but he knows he's stupid, and that almost makes him smart" -3rd Bass

Naturalistic philosopher John R. Searle says there'll never be a truly "conscious" machine, a la the android Data in "The Next Generation". As an argument against those who believe otherwise, he came up with a thought experiment called the "Chinese Room". Basically, he asks us to imagine a room, where a man sits, translating Chinese into English. But this imaginary man is no cunning linguist. Basically, he has a table that he works from; when he receives a piece of paper with Chinese calligraphy on it, he consults the table, which shows him exactly what that particular symbol translates to. Thusly, he's able to completely convey what the message says, but is at no point himself able to understand the original language.

Searle argues that this is essentially the case with even the strongest computer; it doesn't understand, it just performs the functions which it has been assigned.

Sometimes, surfing the internets, particularly with the "blogosphere", I get the sneaking suspicion that, rather than living in the Matrix (duuuude), we're actually all just in the Chinese Room. If you're the sort of Bozo who's inclined to get into arguments on the internet, you can plug a few key words into Google that will generally express your opinion and VOILA! You can now attribute your worldview to somebody with a lot more credentials, degrees and kudos than you yourself can ever hope to achieve, since you spend all your free time on your computer, arguing about which of the Star Wars prequels sucked most.

("Attack of the Clones", by the way. But only by a smidge.)

I mean, look at me. What gives me the right to comment on what makes a good coffee house? I've never owned a coffee house; the only time somebody would let me so much as manage one was when it was already run so far into the ground that they figured I couldn't make it any worse. Sure, I was a better barista than some of those places deserved... but I'm hardly an authority on what makes a successful business.

So when I say I'm not surprised that the Uptown Perk and Pub closed down, does that sound like an "I told you so"? While I had good words for that particular location, I've never been fond of the whole "Perk and Pub" concept. The business plan listed on their website is a manifesto that would make the unibomber jealous, laying out plans for world domination, neighborhood by neighborhood (Washington Park Perk and Pub! ... Uptown Perk and Pub!... Commerce City Perk and Pub!... Kabul Perk and Pub!) I've heard some rumblings that the owners intend on re-opening the location, though the "for rent" ad in Craigslist suggests otherwise.

Research and market trends are fine and dandy when you're designing a logo for a new brand of laundry detergent (or, yeah, okay, when you're Starbucks). But when you're attepting to (from the P&P website) "offer services in locations that have a more intimate and neighborhood feel to them, even in the most urban or suburban settings", and create "new vibe of togetherness that didn't exist before", It's better to focus on coffee, rather than "concept". Be the wise man; admit you know nothing; let the customers decide what the joint is gonna be.

Take, for instance, Fluid Coffee Bar, which, at only one (1) block away, was a no brainer for being my next stop after descovering the husk that was once the Perk and Pub. One of the P&P's best assetts was their beans, supplied by Novo Coffee, who are fast on their way to becoming my favorite roaster in town. Lucky for me, Fluid uses the same product. This, however, is the end of any similarities between the two. Where P&P tries to package a homey, neighborhood feel, Fluid knows their exactly who their clientelee is. The joint is located on 19th ave, in a prefab condos n' wine shop n' yoga studio ghetto where the denizens all survived the first dot com bust just fine, thank you very much. Fluid's design is neo-futuristic in a Jetsons (as opposed to Blade Runner) kind of way. If your laptop isn't working, they've even placed terminals along the bar facing the window, so you won't have to look at that forsaken "outside" place. The lighting is lounge-y without being self consciously hip (see: Xandos Coffee in NY), and if cyberspace isn't your bag, you can sit in the comfortable chairs and peruse the wall of books, among which are some science fiction classics, which certainly keeps in the spirit of the atmosphere.

As I said above, the coffee is quite good, and the workers were friendly enough when I asked to wait for the new pot to finish brewing, rather than take the old stuff. More surprising, and worth mentioning was the overall positive attitude of one particular barista (soma in the coffee, perhaps?)

To wit: I love me some gossip. Especially of the coffee variety (hence, the blog). One time, when I was still in the biz, I let slip to the employees of a competing shop that their employer grew hydroponic weed at his house. It turned into this big mess, and the owner showed up one day as I was closing and freaked out about how that he was so big and successful, and had so much to lose, and how, "When you're (Joe), you can't even go out to a movie without being recognized!" Because, apparently, when you own an espresso bar in the basement of an office building, suddenly you're as recognizable as Tom Cruise standing on Oprah's couch.

Hydroponic weed makes you paranoid.

Anyhoo, I was fishing around for some gossip with this particular barista at Fluid about whether she knew anything about the P&P's closing. She showed genuine concern for their well being and, with the utmost sincerity (this is sooo cute) said she hopes that they're back in the neighborhood soon!

Doesn't matter to me, one way or another... I'll be sticking with Fluid.

But what do I know?