Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Boston coffee shop post

Anyone who knows me knows that a good local coffee shop is fairly essential to my well-being. It's somewhere to meet my friends or to write papers and poems; somewhere that I can sit for hours without being rushed out, whether with or without people. And then, of course, there's the coffee itself. Pastries/other food are another consideration, but I consider them more of a bonus. The point of all this is, I've now frequented a number of coffee shops in the greater Boston area, and I'd like to offer a short, unscientific rundown of them, now that you know my criteria. If anyone has any suggestions for me, please offer them. I've mostly stuck to what's fairly near to where I and people I know live. I hope it's helpful in some way to someone....

1. Diesel Cafe - 257 Elm St., Somerville (Davis Square)
I've never really been one to worry about whether I blend in with the crowd at a place, so I don't care that at Diesel, I'm often the only non-tattooed one there. I like their coffee a lot - I think they brew Intellegentsia, and they foam soy milk better than anywhere I've ever been. The sandwiches and pastries are a little overpriced, but good, with lots of vegetarian items. I don't think I would go here to write a paper, since it's kind of a trek for me to take my laptop, and I'd have to pay to distract myself on Facebook.

finding a space: not that hard - lots of tables, probably the most on this list
outlet situation: I haven't noticed, actually, but fewer computers here than other places
wireless: you have to pay
bonus goodness: pool tables, photo booth, random vintage typewriter

2. Espresso Royale - 286 Newbury St., Boston (near Newbury Comics)
I wrote a paper here one afternoon, but I was lucky to find the space/outlet. There was a line there the entire time, of people ranging from students to people who'd clearly just shopped at the Armani store. They also ran out of bagels, and a couple of other things, fairly early in the day. Definitely not for the claustrophobic, but once you're settled in, it's not that bad. And oh, right, the coffee. Their espresso has this slightly burnt quality that I happen to like, but others may not. Also, there's an excellent tea selection.

finding a space: quite difficult, since it's tiny, but people generally seemed willing to share/be accommodating
outlet situation: basically one power strip that everyone uses and then they trip over everyone else's cords
wireless: they technically don't have it, but there are plenty of local networks
music: The baristas have good taste. They were playing the White Album and there was a mutiny to skip "Piggies."

3. Espresso Royale - 44 Gainsborough St., Boston (near Symphony Hall)
Obviously a lot of things carry over from the other ER - bagels, tea, coffee. This one is about...oh, five times the size? It was busy, but my friend and I had no trouble finding a table (with C. Montgomery Burns painted on it!). It's in a lovely old building with tall ceilings and lots of tables/chairs of varying size, and the customers are mostly NEC, Berklee, and Northeastern students and their skeptical-looking parents.

finding a space: no problem
outlet situation: I meant to check it out and didn't, but lots of tables against the wall
wireless: okay, seriously not doing my research well...I'm not sure
employees: I have to say, I love when the barista types aren't snobby, but instead are quick with a smart joke and dance (well) to Prince. (The Police was also on at some point.)

4. Trident Booksellers & Cafe - 338 Newbury St., Boston (near Newbury Comics, but the other way)
This isn't as much a coffee shop as a breakfast/lunch place, but I sat for about an hour and a half at a table one afternoon doing homework, and over the course of that time I ordered a cup of coffee and a bagel & cream cheese, and they didn't seem to mind - though it was mid-afternoon and a little slow. You can always sit at the bar; it seems less conspicuous. The coffee is average - that's not really an insult, but it's not fabulous either. Plus they don't have skim or soy milk, so I avoid the lattes, etc. Oh right, and there is one bathroom and it's far away from the restaurant part, and always has a line.

finding a space: depends on the time - I wouldn't recommend going during lunch unless you're actually going to have lunch
outlet situation: nonexistent
wireless: also, I think, nonexistent - but it's close enough to Espresso Royale that you could probably get onto one of those networks
in other news: the bookstore itself is fantastic - the best sale table around, great periodicals, etc.

5. 1369 Coffee House - 757 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge (Central Square)
Good espresso, really good foam, and really really good cheesecake. That's enough for me, but I'll add that the place was...I guess cozy is the word. Red walls, interesting art, good lighting. They also had a lot of non-coffee drinks, like hot cranberry cider. It was quiet - people were talking quietly or reading, as opposed to the Symphony Espresso Royale, which was full of energy.

finding a space: pretty easy; there are probably twenty tables, maybe? (I'm so bad at estimating)
outlet situation: seemed good, lots of people with computers and lots of tables against the wall
wireless: again, I think so, but don't take my word for it...why did I make these little categories?
bonus goodness: They make that leaf shape in the foam - I love that. Plus, two used bookstores reside between the Central T stop and 1369.

6. Mr. Crepe - intersection of Elm St., College Ave., and Holland St., Somerville (Davis Square)
This is brand new, but apparently there is/used to be one somewhere else in the Boston area. I went there on a Saturday afternoon, drawn by the sign on the wall that said "Serving Rao's coffee." I went to college in the Pioneer Valley, and spent much of my waking life at Rao's in Amherst. When I got my latte, I almost cried because it tasted exactly the same - Rao's, also, has a slightly burnt taste to their espresso, but it was worth the nostalgia. It started out calm, and eventually filled up - it's kind of a high-traffic area. We had a strawberry-and-Nutella crepe, and it was really good, and not bad price-wise. Lots of good teas, too.

finding a space: easy when we got there; packed when we left - not cramped, though
outlet situation: pretty good; probably about half the tables have access
wireless: maybe?
parking yourself: I did see one table there for the long haul, but it seemed like most people came, ate crepes, and left.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

With apologies to Barack Obama

There's one word that keeps popping up in my life lately; for example, in two of the CDs I got for Christmas: Love Loss Hope Repeat and Begin to Hope. Then today, I spent the afternoon on the second floor of the MFA, and came across the painting at left - Hope by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

Then, of course, there's Barack Obama's new book, the title of which I appreciate. It is a very audacious thing to look at the world honestly, and still hope. So of course, I'm paying homage to the idea by...titling a mix CD after it. Here' s the playlist.

The Audacity of Hope

1. Ciega, Sordomuda - Shakira
2. Portions for Foxes - Rilo Kiley
3. February - Dar Williams
4. Hotel Song - Regina Spektor
5. Speechless - Girlyman
6. Love Loss Hope Repeat - Carbon Leaf
7. The Hard Way - Michelle Shocked
8. Troubled Times - Fountains of Wayne
9. Life is Sweet - Maria McKee
10. Easy People - the Nields
11. On the Radio - Regina Spektor
12. I Like It - Dixie Chicks
13. More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley

Now for a song that's not on this CD - "As Cool As I Am" by Dar Williams. I knew there was a video for this song, but I could never watch it properly the various places it was posted. Now, however, it's on YouTube, so I'm putting it below. I don't know how I feel about all the cutaways to lyrics, but I really love the end, and also the part where she's dancing in the hallway.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The blank calendar ahead

"Personally, I love the false promise of the New Year."

-Dar Williams at the Somerville Theatre, December 10, 2006

As usual, I agree with the venerable Ms. Williams. It's not that 2006 was so bad. On the contrary, as it progressed, I became progressively happier and more content. Being content, however, is its own pitfall, which is how I formed one of my New Year's resolutions. I usually make one concrete and one abstract resolution. Last year's abstract one (to be more aware) led to this year's concrete one, to meditate every day. Yes, it is New Age-y, but I feel much better when I let my mind be quiet for ten minutes. My abstract resolution is to be more adventurous (or its flip side, to be less safe). Because honestly, why the hell not? When I actually look at what I have to lose, it's usually not much. And I should definitely be used to embarrassing myself by now.

I read Life of Pi, and a conversation about it with a friend did save me from hating it, but it's definitely not one of my favorites. Right now I'm working on The Second Sex alongside the collected Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, which my dear friend Clare lent to me, and in which I am utterly absorbed. Finally, I am starting to read comic books. I want to thank Clare publicly for her persistence in this campaign.

I want to put a picture here of one of my favorite corners in the world, Bardstown Road and Longest Avenue in Louisville, which I got to visit on Saturday. Heine Brothers' Coffee, Ramsi's Cafe, and Carmichael's Bookstore...seriously, I could live in a tent there and be happy.

Happy New Year to all! I hope the sense of possibility that accompanies the arbitrary date change redeems itself.