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?


Denver Coffee said...

THis really is a neat spot. It is a unique addition to the Denver scene, and as you mention... THEY SERVE AN AMAZING CAPPUCCINO! :-)

cough-E said...

Caffeinator X:

Before I begin, let me echo a few people's sentiments and say your writing flat-out rocks. Seriously. Witty, poignant, soulful and just really, really good. Thanks for the effort, energy, and keeping us all entertained.

On to my experience with SML. I had seen their banner driving past on Speer, and made a note to drop in on them. I'm a sucker for an indie, and saw they had an early 6am opening, which was perfect for me to get wired and simultaneously chill before going into work. Stopped in today (5/9), and walking into the shop, the proprietor couldn't be bothered to look up from his laptop. I found this a little annoying, as I knew it was a new business and was surprised at the laissez faire attitude. While I didn't want the contrived smarm of Einstein's, I was hoping for a little banter to get the day off right. I asked a few questions about the space (really well done), but was met with monosyllabic answers and a flat, bored vibe. Drank my cappuccino, ate my Aspen Baking Company muffin (Bo-ring! Anybody else tired of this and the ubiquitous Bluepoint offerings?) and walked out knowing I wouldn't be coming back. I was actually startled when the owner (yes, it was the owner!), said goodbye.

I hate to sound harsh, but c'mon; if your dream is to do something better than you think it's currently being done, or you want to Stop Working For The Man, or you just really love coffee, then do it with some fucking passion. I'm hoping I just caught somebody on a bad day, as the concept of what they're trying for is fantastic and needed in town. Just my two cents.

caffeinator_x said...

Thanks for the feedback... both for me and about the shop.

The big things for me, when I decide whether or not I even want to bring up one of my many visits to a coffee shop is 1)the coffee itself, and 2)the overall aesthetic of a place (how comfortable is it? do I like the music playing / books-magazines on display? What sort of "events" do they have? How's the people watching?)

Customer service can definitely ADD to that aesthetic when it's spectacular. But what I find generally is great service maybe 20% of the time (and I agree, it has more to do w/ banter and raport than strained "HAVE A NICE DAY" isms - tHERe Coffee is a PRIME example of the former). The other 80% is ... nada. Neither good or bad, just indifferent -baristas who are less like a carnival barker and more like the dude running the roller coaster day in and day out. I'm probably more forgiving than some because, tho I was technically a good barista, I was a mean, tired, scoff at your order kind of barista. As long as they don't reach that level of disdain, I won't mention it in a write up one way or another.

I agree that the food at most coffee shops, when they don't have a full kitchen, is pretty uninspired -- though that probably has as much to with lack of good bakeries to get product from. And unfortunately, it seems like any time a joint DOES have a full kitchen, and a good menu to boot, the quality and consistency of the coffee takes a hit (like the 20 minutes they take to pull an espresso shot at a certain popular joint on Broadway)

Thanks again for reading, and for writing. I'd like to see Coffeecrush become as much of a forum as it is a pulpit...


John D said...

I just visited this shop after reading your review. I love the garage doors. Th Frank Loyd Wright reference is right on. What a cool spot. I tried a Cap and you were not wrong. Yummy! I had a male barista who did an excellent job. I don't know if he was the owner or not, but was friendly. They were busy so I didn't get to talk, but am curious about the movie night. Did you go?
Anyway, cool place, great Cap. Appreciate the referral...

cassie d said...

we NEED a certain barista from St. Louis!!!!


Rod said...

had trouble finding the place. went to scooter joes instead.