Buunni Coffee, New York NY

Back at Home.

Do not disturb activated. Phone on silent and turned upside down. Am I really not going to look at it for the next twenty minutes, let alone the hour it takes to write this? “it takes?” As if its a chore and not the great delight it is, not to mention privilege to sit and take in an afternoon and – write? Just write for the hell of it. Write just to see what comes out.

Bunni’s the spot- half caff, 2% latte is the cup. Desire lead me here- a tugging feeling over the past few weeks: Slow down. Take life in. Live in your life. Connect to the world around you. Connect to your neighborhood.

My big thing lately is that, when I travel- I imagine what it would be like to live in a place. I look at an apartment building, a house, on a street, in a city where I don’t live and think- okay that’s where I live- go: what is life like? Where do I work? Where do I order pizza from? Where do I park my car? How would I change that yard? It’s almost a compulsion- sometimes I can’t turn it off. Picturing myself in that place, in that place..or there..or there…

I’m sure it comes from many years of feeling like I don’t have a home- the drive to find one. The ever constant assessment of- what is my life going to be? Say what you want about the vagabond lifestyle- I have and will, but the drive to feel rooted in a place is an ever present, if not noticeable, thing. I so classically love this vision I’ve spoken of before of a fictional life in the South Street Philly neighborhood: the black on brick window panes, the wrought iron stairs, the afternoon autumn sun darting between lazy leaves on trees that were here when Ben Franklin walked these blocks. The yoga studio down the street that isn’t perfect, but hey- it’s right there. The neighbors you wave to while walking with your stroller around the neighborhood, or loading up the car to get to a shoot. This fictionalized future view of lifestyle ache – fulfilled. It always seems just out of reach. I’m starting to wonder if I am just falling into the same “grass is always greener” mentality that plagues much of humanity. The reach is the real issue, not the circumstance.

But still there’s…

Desire.  Desire for a certain life.  In a really interesting place.  Where I do really interesting things.  And satisfaction.  

I found myself biking down the Hudson River Greenway a few days ago- an incredible day with stunning views, temperature perfect- a path that enters and exits countless little parks that I guessed but never knew existed and thought – this is it. This IS my life. I live in an incredible place. I am currently doing an incredible thing. How? How am I allowed to live in New York City? MANHATTAN nonetheless?! What more exciting city am I thinking exists out there? This is the life that I am always looking for. I’m in it. It’s so close that I can’t even see it.

I think I’m just not accounting for the sentimentality factor; a term that’s grown to be very helpful for me in the past few years, a term that’s helpful for dreamers. It’s not that it’s bad to dream, but — the sentimentalizing of a thing or an idea or vision – complicates the vision when it is actualized. It complicates it because a dream fails to remember that day to day life continues: you still have to carry your groceries up three flights, and schedule that dentist appointment, and file your taxes. You still have annoying things come up at work, and get into arguments with your partner, and miss the train by ten seconds. These things happen to Cate Blanchett and John Mayer. They happened to Rumi and to Stephen Hawking. There’s no place where they don’t happen.

But I’m in it. Look no further, Michael. I live in an incredible city, with all the rough edges and pinnacle views and excitement and eclectic little nooks and interactions I could want. I just have to leave the apartment.

New York, what is this – the fourth time around?- has been my home base for the better part of ten years now, and though it’s felt like home before, I think there’s a new level of that sinking in.. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to claim it as ‘home’. Maybe the 8 million factor- it’s so big that it feels so silly claiming it when so many people do. Maybe it’s that it really is just so hard to live here sometimes. That could be it. There’s very little that is cozy about living in Manhattan. Our apartment is, but it’s no Joanna Gaines farmhouse modérn in rural Maryland…and not for lack of trying.

Yeah. I’m in it.

Could be age. Could be post-grad energy. Could just be time adjusted, but I’ve had more energy to participate in the city this time being back. That’s what I want after all- to be connected to the place I live. To love it. To appreciate it. I know it takes an outlook of expecting to appreciate something in order to appreciate it. There’s work involved- appreciation doesn’t just arrive at you. Wish it did. I know that there’s participation required- to see with eyes that find value, and not flaw. That could have a lot to do with it. My time away in DC for grad school and a little post grad life had so much to do with perspective. My grave interior perspective of what I expect – “do I expect this to go well? Do I expect this to be problematic?” is everything.

Not sure if I’ve talked about this here before, so if I have forgive me, but I really do believe that, to put it concisely: we get what we expect. To me there is an undeniable gravitational force to expectation. I see it happen at the restaurant all the time. If I expect a table is going to be problematic – guess what – it usually turns out to be. If a guest expects that I’m going to make a mistake- I literally stand there sometimes and marvel at how, just how a certain hiccup happens for that very guest to have to deal with, when there was no earthy reason for it to have happened- all the while solidifying the guest’s original pov. “See! I was right to expect that you’d mess that up- because you did and I thought you would.” It’s always a little fishy to me when a defensive mindset gets to say “I was right!”

Do I expect New York to be problematic and against me, or do I expect it to be a wonderful home of joy and worthwhile fulfillment-in-the-rough? The first pov in a way sends out a signal demanding the current of New York to flow against me in order to solidify the expectation. Cue: “See! I was right! it’s flowing against me!”

Oo free mocha! The barista just called out from the counter if anyone wants a free mocha and no one stepped up to claim it. That’s a strike of good fortune.

This is the first entry where I haven’t begun with the shop’s personality. I’m at Cafe Buunni on Broadway in Manhattan allllll the way up off of the 207 stop- the last stop on the A.

I haven’t been here in years, and in fact, the last time I was- it wasn’t a Buunni. So far as I know Buunni is the company that started in a MUCH smaller location- actually a lot closer to my apartment – up on 187/Pinehurst. That shop, I’ve yet to do an entry from- perhaps one day, is one of your classic New York City coffee shops- big enough for a counter and about 4/5 patrons to sit. Tiny tiny tiny. I’m exaggerating of course- it can squeeze in probably 12 people uncomfortably, but it is Mighty for it’s size. The coffee is awesome and the location is a convenient few blocks south of, and right on our walk to, Fort Tryon Park: THE REASON WHY I AM ABLE TO LIVE IN MANHATTAN.

I like cities. Don’t get me wrong. I like living in them even. But to be able to do so – I need nature. Not a park the size of a city block with some struggling gnarled old maples (go trees go!)..I need BIG nature. Fort Tryon is that. Better than Central Park – oh! You just have to go. Views of the Hudson- a Manhattanite’s only real chance to look and see a distance of ten + miles ever. You can’t convince me that isn’t good for the brain, nay necessary.

ANYWAYYYY This shop is now a second Buunni location in an operation that I know is expanding even further.

It’s, nice. The shop is, well, huge. This might very well be the biggest coffee shop in Manhattan. It’s like the apartments up here- how? how is it this large? Thank goodness! There’s still real estate hope. It’s one large room with TONS of seating- mostly wooden square tables, a few hightops, and bar seating along the back wall. There’s a slightly elevated stage area to the left when you walk in, currently recommissioned for more workspace, but clearly a spot for whatever coffee shop fair of entertainment you prefer.

The chairs are metal and comfortable, an eclectic mix of color popping in an otherwise very hodgepodge wooden vibe, saved by a couple of nice accents- the counter trim, a collection of hanging lamps. The very large counter, barista station/prep kitchen runs along the right wall for most of the length of the shop and features pastries and some house made baked goods. There seems to be an extensive loose leaf tea selection (props!) and a range of merch items, including their own beans, featured on one of those giant wall sized one-piece shelving units.

The lighting is… bad. It’s parceled an uneven. Halogen cans in the ceiling dole out a fishbowl haze of unflattering (and too bright) light, but the wood sort of soaks it up and it’s not altogether – no – I can’t compromise on this- it’s not great. I care so much about lighting. Mostly in home spaces. I understand businesses have other priorities and energy saving bulbs can help the bottom line, but just a side tangent about home lighting- its SO EASY to light a room. It’s a simple art form that requires very little skill and yet so many home spaces I visit are lit TERRIBLY. Its the clearest and most direct way of creating atmosphere. A room that’s lit well can cover over a multitude of decor infractions.

So, all that to say, the lighting is ultimately forgivable and in fact, as I look around there seems to be a space at the back that has some warmer lamps hanging down low enough to create a nice glow for those tables back there. There are giant street facing windows that let in a lot of natural light in the front as well, and I’m sure during the peak daylight hours this helps a lot.

The coffee, like the other location is great. It is a place, I discovered, that isn’t thrilled to do a half caff shot, but conceded when I offered to pay for the second shot. The latte was great. And the free mocha is awesome too. Some amateur rothkoesque painting hang on the wall and are a lovely touch. The music, a mellow playlist of slow-jam r&b, beats casually in the background and is a really nice touch. I’d say it’s not a room that needs a ton of music as the space naturally morphs conversations and the percussion of counter work into nice backdrop hum, but I notice it every once in a while with appreciation when a slick groove hits me in the chest.

What I will say in praise of this second Buunni location is that it clearly is a space that fosters community. There are a good number of people here and none of them look the same. Every race, every color, every age. It’s a space that (despite the lighting), is open and inviting. The splatter quality of sound in this wooden room blurs out conversations nearby into a nice background noise which makes it difficult to hear what’s being said even at the next table, turning your neighbor’s meet-up into a palatable aural backdrop for getting work done. I’d imagine on the conversation end, there’s a certain freedom to speak openly, due to this dispersion of sound.

I did look at my phone a fair bit. Damnit.

Here’s an abrupt ending – but they’re closing: Buunni uptown Inwood- check it out. Glad to have this afternoon of community steeping in my neighborhood, in my home town. I’m grateful to have a hometown.

I’m starting to be really excited that this is it.

Chapterhouse Cafe and Gallery, Philadelphia PA

This shop is a special find for me. I first stumbled upon it – I’m not sure…four, five years ago? I want to say it was when I was here on tour, but that would have been seven. I can’t remember. I had forgotten its existence and rediscovered it again last year when Kara played the Academy of Music and I was doing my favorite wander around the city thing. That day I, again, seemed to just find myself here and remembered, “Oh yeah! I’ve been here before!”

If you didn’t know it was here, you might even walk right past it, save for the bar stools that catch your eye from the street. This neighborhood is Gorgeous. It was a moment for me when I realized I needed to get over myself and just admit – yeah – I WANT this. I want to live here. Do you ever have those things where you just feel so cliché and stereotypical for wanting them, and so you bury it down and laugh at yourself for being so mainstream, so predictable? For me its this- this bourgie < I still haven’t figured out what we’ve agreed on the spelling is for the shortened version > gorgeous Phili neighborhood, with the black-paned brownstone windows, and the kid in the stroller on our way back from our hip urban church, latte in hand and my farmers’ market free range beef that I’m going to grill on my gorgeous vine laden back patio/garden later. Edison bulbs and all. Make it a Loft and I’m done for.

Anyway. This shop. It’s just…great. You walk up some steps from the street to the main floor, the front room giving off an immediate cafe vibe with some hanging plants and a chalkboard owl presiding over the scene. The counter is short and crammed in a beautiful way, leaving more space for a few two tops in the front room. The space extends again, into a middle ‘living room’ with a sealed off fireplace, and again into a third small work room off of a kitchen, and then again into my favorite part- the back room with giant nine foot windows overlooking a rather large outdoor garden/patio. I’ve seen parks smaller than that outdoor space in the back but despite a door that seems to connect to it, I don’t think it’s is open to the public. (later research informs me that it’s owned by the building, yes, but a private space for the owners of the shop who live above!)

The back room is bathed in a warm bluish white-tea light flecked with the greenery from out back. Two walls are lined with a bench for the tables. This is always where I make a b-line for, hoping for an open table. It’s one of those rooms that has productivity built in. Focus is not a problem here and a few hours can go by in the blink of an eye. Giant ceilings, maybe sixteen feet, give the necessary space for creativity and unhinged thinking that has space to move or hang suspended until solutions present themselves. The late afternoon sun streams in the holy grail of natural light that keeps you awake and curious.

It took until this visit to realize that the stairwell at the back of the building is in fact not off limits, but leads down to..yes..an ENTIRE BASEMENT FLOOR of three more rooms…I can’t believe it. This place is HUGE. The downstairs rooms, one more of a glorified (but incredible) “nook”, are even quieter than the (typically) quiet upstairs, and have plenty of table options for what looks like group study, or more private work, reading..whatever you want.

Don’t let the name fool you, ‘Chapterhouse’ doesn’t mean it’s the classic bookstore/coffee shops. There is a bookshelf to keep the name from being totally misleading, but the gallery part holds true as there is always an artist’s work being featured here: right now a series of painted portraits and a wall of impressive needlepoint designs that give one of the middle rooms a sense of movement.

The coffee is always good, each time I’ve been here. It doesn’t blow your mind, but is consistent and great. Today’s cappuccino goes down fast, served in a stainless steel camp mug. I’m already contemplating what the second choice will be.

I also want to give Chapterhouse props for the customer service. Each time I’ve been in, the barista/counter personnel are always kind, open and just – interesting. The woman I met last time was an artist and we got chatting about the local music scene and we found ourselves in a pleasant getting-to-know you level exchange pretty quickly. A busier counter kept me from striking up conversation today, but the service is still friendly and available. It’s a nice touch and not always easy to find in the coffee game that can be either standoffish, or mechanical. You really can’t fake a sense of welcome.

I finished my third Jack Kerouac book, Desolation Angeles, this past week. It took me a long time to get through this one, which I didn’t mind as it became a constant companion over the past year and half. I first read Dharma Bums back in 2007 as a freshman in college and needless to say it blew my sheltered upstate suburban mind. I read the original scroll of ‘Road’ about five years after that when I was on it myself [a fantastic way to read that book], and then started Desolation about five years after that. I average one every five years apparently (though I’ve re-read Dharma Bums twice since the first). They’re all so different so no- I can’t pick a favorite.

Desolation lead me to a bit of one myself. There are parts of this book, pieces of his life and things he did that make it difficult to reconcile the connection I feel to his voice, his story, his wound that he’s working { to borrow a phrase from STEW }, with the real person that he was (as if I could even know that). But then – there’s the question: is a person a sum of their actions? It’s not that I think I’m any better, or can’t appreciate the nuance and complexity of a life’s path to transfix or transform the way one sees (and I know I’m acting out of my own cloth), but the fact remains it is a difficult thing to encounter that certain death that occurs when you see a role-model in fuller light. It’s just a shattering of the hero pedestal I’ve held him on, and serves me right: he’s just a guy. It was ridiculous of me to connect any sense of ownership over him to begin with. It’s not that I expect him to not sleep with 14 year old prostitutes, but the tension here between admiration and disgust forces me to face the fact that I cannot sentimentalize people. Even my heroes. It isn’t that it’s ever been his choices that I admire, as much as his courage to tell and inexplicable writing ability. It’s a weird thing to grow up and find discrepancies in associations that have given so much life in the past.

This aside, the book is yet another fantastic tableau of the aimless American artistic struggle and a chronicle of man vs. life in a fascinating socio-political climate at the brink of the 1960s.

There are little moments of hope appearing throughout my days recently. I had the thought the other day: all of this struggle, all of this felt-ineptitude or incompetence, lack of discipline, or lack of doing career the right way: it’s almost as if I can take that as proof that I AM an artist. What artist ever felt satisfied? There are quotes out there about this- the glory of dissatisfaction and the gnarling [.. yeah – if Shakespeare can make up words- why can’t I? Anthimeria man] at the artistic lifework “leaf by niggle”, so what’s stopping me from being that? Here we are again- needing to prove that we’re an artist. And again- not a holy priesthood. So perhaps I’ll offer this as a lament. Why is being an artist So. Effing. Difficult? Maybe it’s the entrepreneurial struggle: to give birth to something never before seen requires an expansion into the dark unknown of what has never been. While you can use the framework of what has come before to an extent, the actual birthing of something original is exactly that- a birthing – a painful convalescence of many things into something new (that also is dependent on the miraculous). Pain is a part of the process. Thank God I’m learning how to handle pain. I still suck at it but in small ways – I’m getting better. For me it’s patience. The pain of a lack of efficiency. Efficiency- and haste- my favorite vices. No wonder the big thing life’s been saying to me in the past few months is “slow down,” (in addition to “put your fucking phone down”).

I’m getting there. Bit by bit. Certainly not as fast as I wanted to, and not as directly. But who am I to judge the course of my own life? What I love most in life is uncovering, years down the line, the precious things I’ve acquired (or been spared) despite all the kicking an screaming I did through fallow, difficult, or obscure seasons. They all say it’s about releasing anyway, don’t they? Letting go, rather than adding to?

I’m more and more aware of my desire to profit lately: to acquire, to gain. It’s something I don’t love.

That’s another thing I love about life- how the most savored moments always arrive at me, with a sense of coming from without, not created by me from within. And always free of charge. Walking down the street, dinner with my partner. I wish I could remember this more often. To walk in blessing seems to be to walk in simplicity.

Go. To. This. Shop. Today’s visit just solidified it even more. Chapterhouse Cafe and Gallery is one of the best coffee shops on the East Coast.

Nostalgia Café, Salt Lake City

Cue spring 2019 favorite: ‘Nostalgic’, Kelly Clarkson.

I’m trying to perfect the one hour entry. Taking it all in, getting it down, some minor edits and publishing right away. Like most things, if I leave myself too much time the overthinking sets in and the fear of publishing certain content grabs hold. How useful is this? A slave of re-writes and do-overs, I can drive myself absolutely nuts trying to get things perfectly. I need more mistake in my life.

I need more not caring mostly.

I usually only have about an hour in a shop while Kara’s in a show or I’m on a break from the rest of the day. And I want to keep my pledge at the top of this to be as unadulterated as possible.

Today I’m enjoying some lightly toasted (full caff) cappuccino from Nostalgia Café in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I was shocked to find so many options on the grid within a short distance of our hotel, about 10 in an eight (salt lake city) block radius. I say salt lake city block because the blocks here are HUGE. This city is so clean cut and organized. There’s so much space within the urban area that it gives the impression that we’re in the more outskirt, industrial parts of other cities- except we’re in the heart of it all. The space in this town is a little overwhelming and bit unnerving. As a walker this makes it hard to enjoy this city on foot- car travel is definitely preferred if you’ve never been here. I will say this massive amount of space and the clear city planning organization of the grid lends the city be a little, well, uninteresting to me. The normal accumulation of grunge and dirt that gives urban environments character and beauty seems to be removed, or not allowed to grow here. I could be wrong- there are surely spots on the edges that I haven’t seen- wait- no- I’m sticking to it! BUT – With so many options- I was reliant on what I could gather from google “vibe” pictures (bless you, google) to make my choice and felt another wave of conviction that online presence is just OH SO IMPORTANT. It made the difference in my decision of where to go today and it’s easy to see that there are so many businesses that have a little something going on and are just maimed by poor photos, outdated and uninspired web design, and a lack of clear communication. Don’t get me started on theatre company websites…

That said, finding Nostalgia was a huge relief. The room, while also open and spacious is textured well for its size.. Stuccoed and chipped walls and cool forrest tones are decked with a series of floral prints from the current artist being featured that are actually quite good. [Sidenote: I LOVE when coffee houses feature the work of local artists.] A couple giant leather couches and large square wooden coffee table hold court in the center of the room amidst a plethora of large communal tables, some round, some rectangular, and a number of smaller tables as well. I love the variety of worktop options – round, square, rectangular, all wooden and sturdy. The furniture here is substantial and it makes me realize how important seating is in a coffeehouse. Flimsy tables and chairs don’t always encourage the security and stability from which one can do their best work, or melt into a safe conversation. The long rectangular room is lined with large industrial windows that run down the alley next door which, combined with the giant window wall in front, give the room an awesome glow of natural light. A stunted front patio and a larger streetside patio complete what this large hang spot has to offer. So much of me hopes that the streetside gets a little rowdy from time to time.

The floor is burnt red clay colored and huge; scarred and worn in places giving it a well-used feel. Could Nostalgia really live up to its name? I ask the girl behind the counter how long the place has been around- she can’t name the specific length of time but reacts with an elusive “Ohhh..”, a unique mixture of pride and nonchalant evasiveness, that all at once communicates ‘I don’t know,’ ‘if you don’t know you don’t deserve to know,’ and ‘a good while.’ “Like a few decades?” I offer. She throws out the trying to remain casual “Ohhh,” again. “At LEAST fifteen years or so.” Cool. It’s been around long enough that most people that make their way through here – just know it. Seems like nostalgia does have a chance to accumulate here.

I love how her reaction of fifteen years is that that feels like eons to her. So circa – 2004? I guess it’s just that in the coffee game – twelve plus years must start to feel like something and you know- surely it is. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to make money $3.25 at a time. Especially for the locations of some of the places I encounter. Urban rents must be rough.

I’ve toyed with the idea for years of opening/running a coffee shop. I love them. I love what they provide for the community. I’m just not so sure I’d want to run one as a business. I love massage and believe in what it does for people, doesn’t necessarily mean I’d want to be a (or would be a good) masseur.

Also feels like – what actor hasn’t? “Yeah! We’ll have a coffeeshop (freely substitute ‘bar’) in the front and a space in the back.” Theatre people love calling theaters “spaces”. {‘yeah, the play was fine..but the SPACE…’}

< no, there are no typos in the sentence above >

My love of coffee shops was initiated by none other than my hometown spot, no not Spot (for you Rochestarians), but Java’s Cafe. My love for Java’s. just. cannot be expressed in words and it kickstarted my love affair with coffeehouse spaces all the world over. It’s been around for “Ohhh…”

My love and appreciation for the local coffeeshop was furthered by Lemonjello’s Coffee ( [‘lemən,ʤeloŭz] or [,lə’mɒnʤəloŭz] take your pick – Matt, the owner, won’t even tell you) in Holland Michigan where I spent a number of summers in and out of undergrad doing summerstock. Lemonjellos, set in an old gas station, solidified my understanding of how to use a coffeeshop. What they’re for. Work, dreaming, reading, conversation. This hotspot in Holland was my artistic home for four summers and is now a pilgrimage for me and a few close friends that shared in that time. It might be the only place I readily buy swag from. For me, to buy swag from a vendor, I’ve really gotta to feel justified to rep that brand, but Lemonjello’s has such a large piece of (my funds of yore) me, my sense of pride in the place and what they’re about makes me welcome a conversation about them.

It will be a special day when I offer up entries from these two pivotal coffeehouses from my past.

Anyway. To wrap up (ten minutes on the clock!) Nostalgia is one of those places great for wasting long periods of time. If I lived here in Salt Lake (…) I’d spend most of my time outside my apartment, here. They have a fantastic environment for wide-open-privacy, in the massiveness of the room. The shop is one of those that attracts an older crowd as well as the young- I always feel like that says something for a place- when the seasoned moms and pops feel comfortable sharing a cup and having their structured and pleasant conversations as well.

The playlist shifted in the time I’ve been here from late 90’s electronirock to a more mellow late aughts dreamy-rock (you know- Brooklyny kind of stuff), good for tuning out the business meeting to my left and focusing in on my daily tasks.

It’s worth noting- the barista was especially accommodating helping me to an 8oz capp instead of their 12oz small. A piece of goodwill that I appreciated.

If you’ve got some work to get done and are here on business – it’s the perfect spot for productivity or a thoughtful afternoon.

Case Study Coffee Roasters, Portland OR

I AM NOT WORTHYYY. I AM NOT WORTHY. I am definitely not qualified to march my ass into the biggest coffee town in America and go about reviewing things. I read in a cute little book at our AirBnB that round about the time the grunge scene hit- Seattle leaped ahead of Portland on the map as the ‘big city’ of the Pacific Northwest, when the two had long been content to remain complimentary counterparts of the urban NW experience. Portland, indignant that Seattle had launched into mainstream stardom, decidedly advanced its hold on the coffee scene to compensate and thus Stumptown’s “he’s a barista’s barista” culture was born.

Who knows if any of it’s true, but the fact remains there are more options for coffee in this wild urban dystopia than one can take in as a visitor. I’m sure different spots serve different functions for locals over time- a spot to get that amazing cup, a pragmatic “it’ll do cuz it’s close” spot, and the place that has the best atmosphere, if not the purest beans from the most gilded fair trade hands half a world away.

Worthiness aside, today’s venture landed me at Case Study Coffee Roasters– Roasters- because it seems that to be taken seriously in this town, you have to be a roasting company as well. Case Study has a few locations in town and I ended up at the SW 10th ave location with rumbling streetcars and the toing and froing of a wonderfully wet, cool Portland afternoon.

The room, open concept, is large and wooden, decked with Edison bulbs and giant black trim windows. The artwork is sparse, I really only see one print hanging on the back wall, and the MVP Hydra Synesso machine gleams its silver grin as the centerpiece of the room. Two-tops line the walls and a counter wraps around the center island service station as the team’s easy cool hustle vibrates the room and visitors peek around hoping for an open table. The place is BUSY and has a great atmosphere for work- the bustle makes it easy to dive into a task, which it seems most people are here to do, though there are a couple of coffee dates; a hum of conversation in the back half of the room. Tourists having a breather from the patch of rain that just passed over, shoot in dousing umbrellas and stomping on the floor mat. Emo-light hipster rock bleats out of two large speakers at the back wall.

The clientele is eclectic. The few aforementioned tourists are flanked by what appear to a nice mix of – well everyone. Collegiates, 30-somethings reading books, a number of working professionals catching up on some Saturday overflow, a few older guests, and a stray smartly dressed European (who I swear is Fred Armisen fucking with me), of all shapes and colors, which I love, and of course, in true Portland fashion, Muttery over my left shoulder. He’s quieted down a little now. Maybe he reached the breakthrough of his oratorial dissertation and is mulling over which direction to go next. The sibilant whispers bouncing over my shoulder are distracting enough to draw me in slightly, yet quiet enough to keep me from wanting to strain to hard to hear- much less know what he’s digging into.

The coffee is of course- fantastic. Even at half-caff the espresso is delicate and refined: lightly floral and earthy, not overly rich, but balanced with a touch of nutty sweetness. I wouldn’t have known it was half-caff if you hadn’t told me. YOU_ yes you!

I didn’t intend for this to turn into a travelogue, and maybe it won’t always be. But I guess here we are four entries- five, in and lets see- how’s it going? Intentions for starting the blog: A. I wanted to. B. Seven years went by before I got around to doing it. C. Celebrate local coffee shops. D. Find a way of writing about my life that I feel comfortable sharing with the hopes of refining {my} writing. eghhh. “MY” writing. Feels so gross to say. Pinky up- swirling my cocktail. Feels so. Just. Ech. But there it is nonetheless.

Why is it so hard for me to think of myself as – or what I do as my work? Probably a judgment cycle falling right back into my lap. I really do think that the measure used gets measured back… I just don’t want to be pretentious. Even though I’m sure we all are at one point or another.

There’s resistance there that I know gets in the way. Self criticism. The enemy of all art? No = that’s mediocrity. Right? Self-criticism can’t be that great either. My sister-in-law did her thesis project on the ‘Inner-Critic’. It was an amazing paper to read and an even more brilliant design presentation (she has a graphic design Masters from SCAD).

Eh. I’m getting better at it. I suppose by 31 and with two degrees labeled “fine arts”, I might as well own it. But it’s really intriguing – the resistance or the lack of ability to call myself an artist or think of what I do as “my work”.

Grad school was really good for me in this regard. We had this thing – I say we because well- the concept was introduced and then the conversation just [Muttery gathers his change and approaches the counter – lets see what he orders!] kept coming back to it time and time again: acting is a working-class job.

I had been treating it like some holy priesthood that only the blessed and fortunate are allowed to be apart of and the reality of it is that it just isn’t. It makes sense why I got that- it’s so effing hard to be apart of! [nothing interesting- looks like just another hot cup of coffee] There IS great luck and fortune involved in having a job in the professional theatre. I guess I maybe just went awry when I made it an identity thing (CLASSIC). Anyway- thinking of it as a holy priesthood that I’d be lucky to be a part of meant that I had to be ‘special’ in some way in order to be accepted in it. That’s a lot of pressure: to prove that you’re special. What’s worse is that that need bled into my work. It became an overarching super objective that would ultimately sabotage any real acting that might have stood a chance. The scariest part is how latent it was/is..and how it can go undetected for so long. And even worse than that is that it can (and did) become an energy source – the fuel that fills the tanks in order TO work. Yikes. Unearthing this great insecurity was tantamount to a discovering a cancerous tumor for me. And I’m sure it’s seedy roots will continue to be dug up my whole life, growing new offshoots from time to time. Ugh. Insidious.

But now I know what it is.

I love that – I love how I approach education as an addition process of building when so much of it is about undoing and stripping away.

An image that gives me so much hope whenever I think about it is – what is it? – Michelangelo’s description of “freeing” the sculpture from the marble. It’s already there, just needs to be revealed rather than built.

Ugh! This coffee is so good I never wanted it to end. I took the tiniest sips at the end to make the experience last, each one a flavor bomb of toasty, honied perfection.

Well there it is. Another great find. Some bomb-ass coffee and a funny complicated afternoon in Portland. This town seems to bring out interesting things whenever I’m here.

It’s worth mentioning since I won’t do an entry for them that my favorite coffee in town on this visit was Coava Coffee Roasters. I made it to their original location twice (Southeast Grand) and their downtown location (SW Jefferson) once. Uh! Make that your first stop. Both spaces are unique and have a little attitude, but the service is kind and the coffee…just…woah. Plus if you need a new kitchen floor or skateboard, the original location features a woodshop in the same giant industrial space. That’s about as Portlandy as it gets.

Bison Coffeehouse, Portland OR

Light, Medium, or Dark Speed

Lived in. This place is lived-in local. Feels like I’m at someone’s house. I’d expect nothing less from Portland. The whole town feels lived in. Like visiting someone who has lived in their house for 50 years. It feels like everyone has lived and worked in their spaces for 40 years. Maybe it’s true.

Bison Coffeehouse caught my eye due to my recent encounter with the miraculous in Yellowstone (see Hyde Perk), so I had to check it out. It’s real. A bit rugged, and Southwestern themed with a Native American vibe. The wifi password is Geranimo. There’s a (real?) Bison head on the wall, and sleepy California rock bleats over a small speaker in the back of the room. It’s one room (besides a small outdoor side patio) and mostly communal tables, with some high top window ledge seating in the front decked out with BABC – Big Ass Bison Chairs. Yup- leather seats and some sort of fur back. Okay it’s not Bison fur… Looks like more of a deer pelt or maybe elk. A couple determined ceiling fans hang from a wood trestled ceiling to complete the package.

The full-caff cappuccino is fine – served in rocks glass. What I love- when ordered, I was asked whether I prefer light, medium, or dark roast. COOL. The first sip is a little more bitter than I usually prefer – of course I did order dark – but a beat later, toffee/caramel notes assert they’ve got my back (palette), and smooth out the hour.

It feels like everyone in here lives 3 blocks away which, with all the coff-erings (see what I did there?) Stumptown has to offer, is probably true. It feels local as local can get: off a road that isn’t quite a highway, but starting to feel a little industrial. The Green Oasis dispensary is directly across the street.

Where’m I at? Someplace weird. I hesitate even to go into it because I know my own tendency to not only decide for myself what’s going on (a ridiculous concept), but also craft some narrative in which I am either a victim and can gain energy from that, or tell myself I’m special in some kind of way: All an effort to get out of the funk and gain energy to press on. So while trying to avoid that (good luck) I guess- I just can’t tell. There is a TON going on. And yet I’m supposed to slow down right now. Why supposed to? Friendship. Time together {Kara}. Vacation [kind of]. Pressure.

Pressure? I’ve been looking forward to a return visit to Portland {and Seattle} since Kara booked this tour and I saw it on the itins back in fall of 2017. That’s a long time to look forward to a week visit in a place (each.) So there’s that I guess- I’m here. What do I do to take advantage of it? To make it awesome. Anyone else ever feel that? Vacation anxiety? I need to activate enjoyment of this place. It’s up to me. To make an awesome time. Control issues probably.

So there’s that. I’ve been looking forward to being here for a long time.

Couple that with slowing down. If not now, when? I know I need to. With an imminent relocation, when else am I going to get this free time? How do I spend it? The marvelous burden of free time. I’m recovering from burnout from audition season, burnout from all my tasks.. and as the burnout simmers..I’m left with…a questionable encounter with an old personality of mine >

>> In undergrad I fell in love with Buddhism. Well- Mindfulness really… and over time I found it’s Christian counterpart – Contemplation. It’s ebbed and flowed in the past eight or nine years and – see if you can follow this: a couple of years pre-grad school (2015-2017) of intentionally removing career-striving and cultivating value/acceptance of where I am (maybe to a fault) was exchanged in grad school (and the year after)(17-19), for an all familiar go-getter attitude of relentless effort and achievement.

Contemplative prayer literally got me through grad school and I must admit that this all-out achievement was tempered by some degree with new weapons of stillness and prayer. (And a kickass partner who – somehow can still speak with me on a phone.)

So when I look back- I see two-ish years of slow, and nearly two years of fast – as if years could be distilled into a speed, and now..transition. I guess that’s just what I’m getting at. I’m in transition. And I have options thank God. Choices. What has served me? What hasn’t? How do I care to proceed? Maybe a grand master plan doesn’t need to be formed. That’s a tendency for sure. Form a plan. It feels irresponsible not to. A correlative collective of effort. IS there wisdom in holding onto that nervous desire?

Option to skip the following: ( ( ( Man I just can become a task machine.  I’m so comfortable in the midst of hundreds of tasks.  Its what makes me a fantastic waiter, but - - Kara and I had a really cool discovery about a year ago where we realized that her personality wants to see a single task through to completion before beginning another and I want to have many unfinished tasks going at once.  I felt awful about this for a long time..as if there’s a innate inability to COMPLETE anything, or a self-sabotage of needing to begin a new task (addicted to the initial enthusiasm phase), before one can be completed.  There could be some truth to that.  I read once (The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield - READ IT) that the most terrifying thing for us is when we actually get what we want.  Because what then?  It’s the moment we must face the reality that this thing cannot save us.  Desire fulfilled reveals the insufficiency of things to give us what we try to get in them. 

So there’s that. Sure. BUT. What we realized is that – I’m good at cooking. Yeah- cooking is a multi-task experience. It may be hard to convey the amount of release I felt at understanding that – my way of working isn’t a bad thing. It’s just how I work. Many at once. Many projects. When the vegetables are ready that’s when you throw on the beans. I guess the question is- does the meal ever get eaten? ) ) )

Ohhh..I just moved to the Bison (Elk) Chairs to get some (computer) power. They’re niceeeee.

So. That’s where I’m at. Trying to slow down. Trying to release achievement as a way of -well, it just won’t work.

I’m happy to be here. I’m going to hike the Columbia River Gorge later today with a friend. There are no problems.

I don’t think I’m going to bring the camera.

You know..as I sit here an proof the entry..I can’t help but think…the West Coast is just cracking my chest open a little bit. I can almost feel it. I want to put my head down and keep producing…and an all too faint and familiar power is pulling me into the present. I’m embarrassed I need to be dragged kicking and screaming into it. But it doesn’t care about that. The West Coast doesn’t care about my East Coast worry and hustle. Speed is everything. There: Narrative Crafted.

Bison Coffeehouse. You were good to me.

Little Oddfellows, Seattle WA

I made it. Only 30 minutes till close but Kara and I wandered in here the other day and I wanted to feature it.

Little Oddfellows. The cafe in the bookstore: Elliot Bay Book Company. I bought a few books here the other day. The coffee shop appears to be the {little} sister of the Oddfellows Cafe + Bar a few doors down. Smart of them. I like it.

Nearly all white and timber, with grey and white chairs and accented by green plants, this smart little oddfellow looks like something out of a Johanna Gaines (LOVE) catalogue, minus her signature natural farm touch of course.

I will never be cool enough to hang out with it’s servers and that’s fine. The service takes no shit and I love that.

The coffee- a decaf mocha, because well- it’s 8:30 (pm) on a Sunday. The only other companions here are sweet little mix of stragglers, pushing the limit on this bookstore’s closing time. I get it. It’s awesome here. If I were local – I’d be here all the time. Scratchy 20s (styled?) songs bop over a soft speaker making me wonder if there’s a victrola nearby and the shift ending sounds of the barista are no bother as I sip the chocolatey end to my week. (“Chocolatey end?” Maybe there’s a better way to say that.)

Like I said- Kara and I swung in here the other day while we were doing laundry down the street, one of the few times the hotel didn’t have laundry. We’re staying at the Hyatt down on Howell so don’t feel too bad for us. The room is a nice treat at the end of a week of wanderlust through the West. But anyway- the other day this cafe was abuzz with midweek locals and tourists. This place serves beer as well and a seasonal fresh juice- which they happened to be out of the other day (bummer!) but the panini we got was great, if simply done and I guess I can’t really speak to the quality of the coffee as it’s been obliterated by my chocolatey end..

Seattle was..great. I love this city. The humans are just so fascinating. I’m kinda glad to realize I won’t ever live here, just in the regard of knowing how hard it would be to be cool here. Not that being cool is hugely at the top of my list of things to do where I live, but there are just SO MANY COOL PEOPLE HERE, and none of them want anything to do with me. Which is just kinda great. Helps me relax in a way.. I can stop trying to make friends and just..be.

There seems to be a hardness to the people here. The real locals that is. I’m sure the heedless weather and hilltop sidewalks carve these diamonds of persona relentlessly and quickly. It seems like it takes guts to live here,…or just a lot of money. It doesn’t take much to realize that the art scene here is vibrant and it’s participation wide spread. The Seattle International Film Festival was letting out a showing when I hopped off the cable car blinded by a gleaming Pacific sunset.

It’s the birthplace of grunge after all. Here’s where I’ll stop because I won’t pretend to know anything about that world, but the hangover is real and really felt, even if the tech startup capital flowing through this town is doing what it can to lululemonize its roots.

Nothing against it. Our week at Urban Yoga Spa (we did their $29 introductory week of classes- no treatments), was great. Another title that this city is a contender for – Yoga Paradise. With Yoga To The People and pretty much any style you could want available in a four block radius, it’s hard to chose.

Coffee? Yoga? Outdoor Culture? What’s not to love? If you haven’t been here, I say delay that European getaway and spend half of what you’ve saved to get here and dig in. Capital Hill area is a good place to start. Look at me just recommending neighborhoods now!

Well there’s five minutes on the buzzer now and I’d love to bounce before the door is locked. Server karma and all that…even though I’m trying to make the last restaurant I worked in exactly that..the last restaurant I worked in.

I’d say (in reference to the last post) that leaving Seattle this time, I’m grateful to have a little bit more of a perception of what it is. At least now feel better knowing that it’s a city of such magnitude that it can only be digested in chunks over time.

Check out Little Oddfellows and the Elliot Bay Book Company! Definitely worth wasting a rainy afternoon in.

queen anne coffe co, Seattle.

Okay. This might be a fast one. Keeping to my own schedule had me high tailing it up the inclines of this bourgie (how does one spell that?) neighborhood on the north side of downtown Seattle. These views put the canyons of LA to shame.

An unprecedented sunny day in Seattle had me itching to get out and get to know this beauty of a city more. I’ve been here once before, back on tour in 2012, and just like last time, the lifepath that lead me here was so exhausting that I barely have the energy required to take in this urban colossus of hills and coffee. It seems like a city built on coffee. A coffee lover’s paradise. It’s of course the mecca of the Starbucks empire, and I made the customary tribute to the site of the (semi) original location. Refer to Wikipedia for more (ˌwɪkɪ*’peĭ*diə to you HIMYM fans). I managed to see it around 8 o’clock on a weekday just before close when it wasn’t entirely overrun by tourists and was able to snap a decent photo. If I can figure out how to attach photos to these posts soon, I’ll regale you with one.

But this city, both times, seems to elude me. A few days into being here, I found myself beleaguered by a feeling I had last visit- that I still can’t quite grasp what this city is, like it’s too big to get an emotional handle on. Of course I know that’s true of ANY city. Try understanding the nuances of Toronto or New York in a few short weeks… But usually a week is enough to feel like you’ve scratched more than just the surface..

Exhaustion from a week adventure on the road (Yellowstone, Jackson, Boise) subsided today and with 48 hours left my heels jetted me out to Queen Anne on the recommendation of a friend to get some /literal/ perspective.

“queen anne coffee co” is a cute shop that sits atop (i think?) the massive Queen Anne mountain neighborhood overlooking downtown Seattle. It’s a trek up here and I’d be surprised if any public transport other than a bus makes the climb – I just checked- just buses..

It’s got three spaces – the first a serviceable, bright indoors with white countertops and flowers on the tables as well as a front patio where locals bask in the sun reading books and lounging their dogs. The third space is a secluded back patio tucked between it and the building next door, that makes this place a standout. I had the patio all to myself and found a neat little moment of zen by the bamboo and elegant wooden poles/navy tones.

The coffee: an iced cappuccino that was the perfect mix of chocolatey espresso and cool leche – – perfect for a balmy 68° day. The service was kind and attentive. Straight caffeine cappuccino today. I need the energy for some shooting later with a friend and drinks with another after that.

I love this city. I don’t think I’ll ever live here. 31 has me admitting to myself more than I used to that there are probably some places at this point that I just won’t live. A few years ago, right after getting married, my wife and I packed up our ’99 nissan maxima and moved to LA. We were over NY and needed a change and just..did it. We were there a year, which was about what we expected the season to last, and found ourselves back in NY two winters after we left, but I bring it up to mention that trip taught me what it takes to move your life from a place. The thing is – it’s possible. I remember scoffing at the disbelief and shock we got at the time from relatives and acquaintances (friends mostly on board) and while I will still contend that its much less risky than a lot of people think, after 9 months of being on the other side of the country, we grew to understand the feelings of isolation and seclusion that come from uprooting your life and planting so far away from most of the community you’ve known up until that point. How’s THAT for a run-on sentence! You can certainly make friends anywhere. But there’s something about being near friends that you’ve known for years.

It’s a shame its so hard. I love the Pacific Northwest. Maybe I’ll do a contract here someday. 6-8 weeks would be a perfect amount of time to feel like I’ve carved a little space out of this city for myself.

Speaking of friends I’ve known for years, next week will find me in Portland where a friend of ten years has recently relocated. We realized that I’ll actually be there the very week of our ten-year friendaversary. We met ten years ago to the week at a welcoming cook-out in Holland Michigan with Hope Summer Repertory Theatre and have been friends ever since. I forget where it was that I heard this but someone once said to me that the sweetest thing in life is friendship. I really believe it. Admittedly, I know that I’m a relationship-oriented person, and in some ways I know it’s just how I see the world. But there are few things to me that are trickier or more valuable than friendship. And its difficult too! Especially with age. They certainly require a bit of work. But there’s nothing else in the world quite like it. I’m blessed to have friendships of all shapes and sizes and some of certain length and magnitude. They all ebb and flow and some have fallow seasons and in a way I just think that’s healthy and normal. And like the depths of affection, there really is no telling where the end of some of them lies. That’s what I love. There’s no goal. How can there be? Abiding is an incomprehensibly sweet gift. Difficult yes, but man.. it heals..and inspires..and confounds..and defeats in the most soul sounding way.

May you be blessed with the depths of un-efforted friendship this summer. If you make the trek up into the hills of Queen Anne, check out this sweet little find to spend a lazy afternoon. I can only imagine the rain on this awning would make an incredible soundscape for whatever would bring you this way.

Hyde Perk. Boise, ID.

Boise, Bison, and Recuperation.

Monday May 13th had us looking for a home base in a new city. We drove into Boise late last night and crashed at a pricelined hotel after a long drive in from Jackson WY.

We were on the fence about whether to press on to Seattle or to linger in Boise for another day but a quick drive through downtown told us that this city had a lot to offer, and in need of a more relaxing day, we decided to have a rest day here and check out the town.

Instinct lead us away from the downtown area, rife with what I’m sure are perfectly wonderful, if not utilitarian options for a coffee shop hang, and out into a local neighborhood. Instinct proved, in this case, fruitful. We found ourselves in a gorgeous neighborhood passing cute homes and schools reminiscent of Nashville, Los Angeles and a little Minneapolis thrown into the mix. There is a cute town center with some open air restaurants, a few shops and what must be the crown jewel of this neighborhood, Hyde Perk.

Immediately on walking in the atmosphere is disarmingly beautiful, and incredibly tasteful. The warehousey exposed ducts and wiring and a cement floor are complicated by wooden table tops and an incredible wood paneled wall behind the counter The art and decor (little flowers on the tables), and old fashioned circular stools at the window bar make this place feel nostalgic and lived in, as if it’s been here for decades. 3 years old to be exact. The owner, who we realized is ringing us up behind the counter is warm and inviting. She leads with “I don’t think I’ve seen you guys before… are you local?”, the barista nearby looks on warmly. We share a little about where we came from and where we’re heading and find ourselves in a pleasant conversation, with the owner of the place. I can’t emphasize enough how, in a world of increasing syndication and corporate entities striving to appear local and homegrown, it is an absolute delight to find contact with the creator so readily and immediately. This small dose of hospitality set us up for a wonderful lazy afternoon of mild organization and recovery.

The coffee- BOMB. My usual half-caff cappuccino hits me with that toasted woodsy espresso profile that I grew to love when I first started drinking it. Kara’s iced decaf americano is “So good.” She settles into checking some email on her iPad and I snap a few photos with my camera and sit to write. A groovy alt-rock upbeat playlist keeps the mood light and as bright as the sun streaming in through the giant flower-accented windows up front.

For this place, it’s the little details that add to the overall design success. Large link chain strung to the counter near the front windows, the metal siding under the front counter, a funny clock on the wall and coffee bags attached to ceiling all contribute to the creativity stimulating vibe. It’s a fantastic place to zone out and get in a work rhythm, to meet a friend for a catch-up, or sketch (like the girl to our left).

Where I’m at: Currently homeless and jobless. It’s effing fantastic. The buzz of encircled folding in on itself energy that DC funneled me into, a self-actualizing achievement vortex, is starting to release its hold. I’m starting to feel glimpses of that lost feeling that I was after in this five week…not vacation….retreat? That doesn’t feel right either. Sabbatical. I don’t need to make this about “rest is important”. We know that. I’ve found it’s been difficult even though I’ve been unemployed and vagabonding for 3 weeks now, to unwind. I’ve driven 4,000 miles since leaving DC and still don’t feel entirely released from the world I know. This time has been set up in my mind as a giant reset button for..well life. Kara and I are finally together again, and transitioning BACK to being around each other, and we’ve managed to not pay any rent for the time being (starting to make sense how I’m able to be out here as a groupie for five weeks?)

I am lucky. I’m lucky to have traversed this landscape before. It could be that. it’s not my first time out west. But as we drove out of the rockies through to the flats of Idaho yesterday, I did get a wave of that familiar feeling- I’m almost to the west coast.

Impressions- Buffalo are amazing creatures – Bison to be more exact, as we learned in the Union Pacific Train Museum (recommend) in Omaha, that Buffalo and Bison are two separate species and that BISON are the animal that we have here in the US. Side tangent: Also learned that at one time it’s estimated that 6.5 MILLION bison roamed the North American continent (one of the largest herds recorded was ~ 6-800,000) and were hunted nearly to extinction. There was a time when the species was down to nearly 325 left. What percentage is that?! One percent of 6,500,000 is 65,000 alone… so 325/6,500,000 = x/100

x = 32,500/6,500,000 x = .005 % !!!!!!!!!!!

Encountering an American Bison today is to literally encounter a MIRACLE. It’s a miracle that they are still alive. Rather than focusing on the reckless disregard we humans had for their existence, I’ll focus on the incredible efforts of our kind to protect and renew their population. Thank you whoever you nameless people are that saw a problem and impacted our world forever in bringing their numbers back up. Driving across open plains of the country is forever a different experience now, knowing these lands were once ruled by so many bison. No wonder I’ve been struck with an empty sadness from them in the past. They are empty, or rather, emptied.

Kara looked up what Bison mean or represent, a fun task we do from time to time. She found “The American buffalo or bison is a symbol of abundance and manifestation, and the lesson learned by the Lakota that day is that one does not have to struggle to survive if the right action is joined by the right prayer” (https://collegefund.org/native-american-heritage-month/the-meaning-of-the-sacred-white-buffalo/)

What an interesting thing to come across, considering the imprint they had on us, during a time when we are driving across the country with no home, wondering where our careers are going to take shape; what we’re going to do for money. How are we going to marry our separate endeavors and not be pulled into long distance beyond the point of endurence?

Who knows. But I’m encouraged. I’m glad for this time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to abscond into the American west, AND the Pacific Northwest. I’ve got a Canon DSLR at my side for the first time (something I’ve wanted for oh..nearly a decade). I’ve got a wife who – just – is the reason for waking up in the morning. I can’t believe she agreed to CAMP in Yellowstone at 6,500 ft and a low of 19° (we barely slept, it was so cold! But the stars were WORTH it.) I can’t believe she can still stand to be around me after a week in the car together.

Love this coffee shop. I couldn’t recommend it enough. The second cappuccino is just as good as the first.

SOZO Coffeehouse. Omaha, NE

I’m thrilled to offer up a stunner of a coffeehouse as the first post in this long overdue blog.

SOZO Coffeehouse in downtown Omaha is a fantastic find. Unique. Billed on the side of its giant building as Omaha’s LARGEST coffeehouse, a crowded other shop sent me looking for more. This is one of those times I’m glad I followed my dissatisfaction and found something awesome. Located in the basement of a behemoth of a building on Jones Street between 13th and 14th, I was nervous walking down the iron steps off the street level but comforted by the sight of a studious guy in the window there near the stairs. My first-timer nerves were eased immediately when I walked through the door and the barista casually called across the giant room “Welcome to SOZO!”, a helpful gesture to welcome me in. Two manicured pools tables lay before me and some high tops situated around the room reflected more of a bar than a coffee shop, but adjacent to the pool room is a larger classic hang area lit (tastefully) by Christmas lights and some sensible down lights on the enormous brick wall that spans the depth of the building. The ceilings were high enough to not make this underground establishment feel cramped and some couch areas break up the ‘study hall’ like vibe. The space, despite its concrete floors and industrial feel, manages to maintain a warmth and comfort.

Always a fan of natural light, I was nervous that I’d miss it, but as I sank into writing this post and working on some other distractions, I didn’t mind forgetting about the dreary Omaha day outside.

Kara was in the show and I had a couple of hours to kill, so aside from checking a many year goal off of my list in the creation of this blog, I really had nothing to do. The space, while large, was pretty full of mostly younger twenty-somethings on apple devices, and a (large) conference room behind the counter area/utility kitchen had some large group in it: a comforting notion. After grabbing a table, I went to the counter for the order. I brought my own mug, as I’ve been doing more frequently and was surprised to see a pretty visible sign right there at the register encouraging such with a 15% (generous) discount, which I happily accepted. The big test – “Do you have decaf espresso?” “We do!” “Can you do a half-caff cappuccino” the usual moment of stuttered thought “oh- yeah..yeah! we can do that.” Very appreciated. The girl behind the counter knew what she was doing…The guy on barista was reserved but available. I asked a little bit about whether they ever have theatre companies rent out the space or feature bands… He filled me in on the sitch, answering affirmatively to the bands, as I peered around at this immersive theatre, found-space, GOLDMINE.

The coffee was great. Exactly what I was after: a slight lift but nothing overpowering, and despite doing half decaf, its lightly browned taste was pleasant to savor over the hour and a half I stayed.

After getting my drink, on the counter-tender’s suggestion I explored more of this labyrinthian (former warehouse?) basement and discovered a rare find for a coffeehouse: the existence of PRIVATE STUDY ROOMS, each uniquely decorated as an apartment living room, that you can rent for $2 AN HOUR. I probably don’t need to emphasize what a STEAL of a resource that is. Part of me wants to recommend to them that they could probably charge more…upwards of $5 , even $10 and I’d still pay for it if I was local, but I absolutely LOVE that they keep it that cheap for the up and coming artist crowd and students on a budget in need of a second space.

I love this. I love that this coffee house’s emphasis on providing second spaces increases its sense of community. I can only imagine this makes SOZO a resource to this community. “Yeah..well…why don’t we have them meet us at SOZO..we could use their conference room!”

The light clack of pool balls in the background and a playlist of unobtrusively mild alternative rock left me in a mellow and calm yet focused work vibe. This place manages to maintain a wonderful balance of activity and calm.

The day was a huge success… Never is my desire to find a hidden gem so incredibly rewarded!

Loyalty program: yes!

The plus: pool tables! private study rooms! this makes this GIANT space capable of hosting a variety of different vibes all at the same time…full blown work sessions, next to some all out hang-out time. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was in a NYC tech start-up. They may have found the holy grail of mulit-use spaces akin to that of Pinewood Social in Nashville TN..the all day hang out concept- where you don’t need to leave the building, just move to another room. Also: Extra late hours during finals weeks: serving waffles for those all nighters?! C’mon..

The cons: No natural light in the main room, but like I said, it didn’t really bother me after awhile.

Proud to offer SOZO up as the first in entry in this blog. Next time you’re in Omaha- I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Coffee Shop Blog

Forever, I’ve wanted to write a coffee shop blog. I travel a ton. I love coffee shops. They’re my absolute favorite thing- hanging in, working in, discovering new spots in cities to visit. I’m thrilled by coffee houses that are unique, have a specialty, put a fun twist on the same old thing, or just have created a really great atmosphere for work and dreaming. I’m frustrated by shops that seem to be on the brink of something cool, but are held back by something seemingly simple to fix. I love that coffee houses bring strangers together, cultivate conversation, and provide ‘second spaces’ for hives of creativity.

Most of all I love that no two local coffee shops are created equal. Until they franchise…

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the availability of Starbucks (judging commence), and other chains. In the coffee game, there’s something to be said for consistency and congruence of rhetoric. (“no..I want an ACTUAL macchiato…no added sugar please..”)

This blog is for…ANYONE. Coffee-lovers, dog-walkers, travelers, entrepreneurs looking to get a sense of what people (me) are after.

As a writer, I promise to be as raw and true to self as possible. I will strive for little editing..

I’ll try to focus on the following:

Coffee: style, general quality, range of available options.
Vibe: environment, music, clientele, community
Service: style, personality, temperature (sweet/salty)
Unique offerings: any special feature of the house – study rooms, combo bike store, live music.
Location: ‘Nuff said.

I’ll also try to give an update on where I’m at in every post so that, ever in search of objectivity, you can take what I say in context…good luck to us all.

***Disclaimer(s).
1. Everything I say here is entirely my own opinion. I’m a classic over-thinker. I have trouble putting my voice forward at times. So you will find a lot of self deprecation and Libra-concessions of other sides. You will also find me (hopefully) growing in the ability to stand on my own pov, respectfully, and constructively.

2. I only drink espresso. Avoiding TMI- drip coffee has a lot of acid and that can mess up a stomach real bad. I lost the ability to drink drip coffee without massive amounts of Prilosec about five years ago. It’s a small tragedy. Though I love espresso and americanos are great, there’s nothing quite like nursing a big mug of warm drip coffee over hours; the best just as tasty when they’re room temp as when they were hot.

3. I’ve been moving more to decaf. As it turns out caffeine can contribute to anxiety. Ugh… It’s just not as good but I order a lot of half-caf and will try to sample the full caffeine espresso at places to give an accurate impression.

Happy reading. Happy Coffeeing.. Here’s to supporting local!

Michael