2004-01-08

Coffee houses

Athens is "eaten up" with coffee houses. (That's another way of saying that you can't swing around a dead cat in the air without hitting a coffee house.) To name a few, Athens has Blue Sky, Jittery Joe's Five Points, Jittery Joe's Eastside, Jittery Joe's Student Learning Center, Espresso Royale, Starbucks, Cups, Favorite, and so on. I'm calling them coffee houses because an Athens Banner-Herald article alerted me that it's so not cool to call them coffee shops, but I do so anyway. Cafe is also problematic since that could refer to a diner.

Coffee shops/houses are special because they have an "atmosphere," and that atmosphere is not lacking in Athens. Blue Sky even had two layers of atmosphere recently: they had the regular troposphere at street level, and in the basement there was a smokosphere with an air purifier (Smokeeter) to eat cigarette smoke, but the management decided to make it non-smoking and promote the dingy basement as a meeting room. Blue Sky, like other cafes or coffee houses, displays various kinds of artwork, usually in the form of a related collection for a certain period of time. Upstairs you may see colorful oil paintings priced for hundreds of dollars -- "I wonder what would happen if I splashed coffee on one while trying to navigate the cramped tables" -- and downstairs you'll see crazy stuff that they probably hope will get vandalized, like scores of identical figures painted different colors on each repetition (like a kindergarten Andy Warhol) or sculptures made of random odd items (like Claes Oldenburg on crack).

Atmosphere is expensive, however, and "gourmet" coffee demands a premium price anyway. If your only expectation of coffee is "hot, and a lot of it," go to a Waffle House (not the Waffle Shop or a wafe). If you want to know the name of the roast you're drinking, go to an atmospheric coffee house. The way I see it, if you drink your gourmet coffee in the coffee shop, the price is OK because you're renting atmosphere for half an hour or more. Considering that students like to pack coffee shops houses and study for hours on end, it is no wonder that coffee shops houses charge the price of a fast food meal for a cup of coffee. If you want to eat a snack with your coffee, you'll have to cough up another two or three bucks. Do you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Blue Sky has them for $2.25. McDonald's has hamburgers for 89 cents, but I don't suppose they really have atmosphere.

Espresso Royale Cafe (known as ERC to those of us in the know) deserves special mention because they recently put the smack down on the high gourmet coffee prices, making a small cup of coffee -- gourmet coffee -- available for 86 cents (including tax). If the ERC was the U. S. of A., then the other coffee houses' high-price menu boards would have boots in their a**es* (assuming menus have a**es). ERC's downside is that their seating area is designed for unnaturally small people (or perhaps children). ERC can claim Athens' only smoking section in a coffee house, but it is a small, dirty room accessible from the outside of the building. ERC also has a new outdoor sign that no one likes. But if I want coffee to go, or if I want to find philosophy instructors, then I'm going to ERC.

Let's mention a couple other unique places. Starbucks downtown has an upstairs seating area where you can feel superior and look down upon pedestrians, cars, and the Arch. So Starbucks would be an excellent place for cats. Cups is a neat place on the east side; it has the appearance of a store because on the wall it has framed posters for sale and there are all kinds of merchandise sitting around trying to entice you.

So much, then, about coffee houses in Athens.

* I apologize for the use of the word a**, but this is a random, out-of-place cultural reference to Toby Keith. Sorry that I couldn't restrain myself. Please carry on.

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