Barista in the Mirror

At Opening Bell Coffee

Barista in the mirror

May the embers from the open hearth warm your hands,
May the sun’s rays from the Irish sky warm your face,
May the children’s bright smiles warm your heart,
May the everlasting love I give you warm your soul.

—-Trad. Irish Blessing


Opening Bell

From an article That Jerk? C’est Moi in the Wall Street Journal:

The problem with writing in coffee shops is that everyone hates the kind of people who write in coffee shops—especially the kind of people who write in coffee shops. You see the guy in the corner hunched over his laptop and you think (forgetting, for the moment, that you are also hunched over a laptop): “For chrissake, get an office.” As someone who writes in coffee shops for a living, I have wrestled with this paradox for much of my adult life.

One book of essays on writing (I don’t remember exactly which one –  if you know please comment) said that a sure sign of a failure at writing is someone that writes in coffee shops. He took that as a sign of being non-seriousness, of being a hipster doofus, of being twee. I totally understand where he was coming from, but I think he missed an important distinction. I write in coffee shops not because it is cool but because I go to coffee shops sometimes and I write wherever I go. In other words, I go to coffee shops for coffee… well, not really… the coffee I make at home is better than any coffee shop coffee (Fresh ground beans, French Press in the way to go)… I go to coffee shops to get out of the house and I write there because I am there.

The New York Times, of course, has an non-serious, twee, hipster doofus take on the thing… Destination: LAPTOPISTAN

JUST after 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, as a dozen people clicked away on their laptops at the Atlas Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, half of a tree broke off without warning less than a block away. It crashed into the middle of Havemeyer Street, crushing a parked car, setting off alarms and blocking the street. A deafening chorus of horns rose outside Atlas’s window as traffic halted. An 18-wheeler executed a sketchy 10-point turn in the middle of a crowded intersection before a pair of fire trucks made their way through the traffic jam in a blaze of red. Chain saws roared, sawdust flew and the horns built to a peak. It was New York urban pandemonium at its finest.

Inside the warm confines of Atlas, separated from the chaos by only a thin wall of glass, not a soul stirred.

There are dangers, of course. From Coffee shops are ruining creative writers

Fiction writers are using coffee shops as settings within their works because they’re writing in coffee shops. And that’s why coffee shops ruin creative writers.

I am guilty of this – at the Pearl Cup one afternoon, I wrote a short story about a guy (not me, a mob hitman) sitting in the Pearl Cup. I thought I had put it up here as a Sunday Snippet… but I can’t find it. There was a robbery and people died. Only once though; I can live with that.

I live in Dallas – purportedly the un-hippest city in the world (no longer true) – but there are a few nice independent coffee places here tucked in between the barbeque, strip joints, and Baptist Churches. There was even a list – Get your morning buzz: The top 10 indie coffeehouses in Dallas.

The list, with my notes, starting with the ones I’ve been to:

The Pearl Cup  Been there many times – attended some author readings there too. It’s a great place, but often too crowded to get a table. I’m excited because they are about to open a branch in my neck of the woods.

White Rock Coffee Been there many times. Cool place not too far from where I live.

A cool piece of wall art at White Rock Coffee

Espumoso Caffe – Been there a few times, really great place.

Through the door of the Espumoso Caffe, Bishop Arts District, Dallas

Oddfellows – Never had the coffee there, but love the place and the food. Wrote about it here.

The bar dining spot at Oddfellows – a wooden bench, metal pipe for a backrest, and a log for a footrest. Our waitress has my wheat beer and Candy’s wine.

These are the places I haven’t been:

Oak Lawn Coffee

Opening Bell

Drip Coffee Company

Cultivar Coffee & Tea Co.

Crooked Tree Coffeehouse

Murray Street Coffee House

Antonio Ramblés listed a few too – Anywhere but Starbucks – but only one The Corner Market wasn’t on the other list. It’s on Greenville and McCommas, where I used to live (a long, long, long time ago), so I’ll add them.

The Corner Market

So now I have a list, and I need to work my way through it. Today, Opening Bell. It’s in the Southside building in the Cedars, an area I have been getting familiar with for no particular useful reason. It’s right across the street from the fabulous NYLO hotel with its SODA bar – one of my favorite spots in the Metroplex. It’s been on my list for a while.

So I took the DART train down to the Cedars Station and tried out Opening Bell.

It’s in the basement of Southside on Lamar – an urban living complex built inside an enormous old brick building that used to house the Sears offices and warehouse. It’s not surprising then that it has a local feel to it – catering especially to the thousands of folks living overhead. A lot of folks wander in sleepily, getting a fill of their personal cup or thermos. It’s full-service, selling food (I had a huge and excellent chicken salad sandwich), beer, and wine in addition to coffee, chai and tea. There is a little stage for their evenings of live music (have to check that out some time). The refurbished warehouse space is adequately funky and cavernous, the voyage to the restrooms an industrial adventure (and I mean that in a good way). The coffee is good, both espresso and brewed (refills on the latter – yay!). The proper urban doofus artwork adorns the old industrial brick (local art, posters for Hendrix and Townes Van Zandt, an old accordion perched above the barista).

I did drink too much coffee. I knew it was bad when the barista asked me what kind of coffee I wanted and I replied, “I don’t care.”

The music they play is excellent (among the Dallas coffee spots second only to Espumoso… so far, and so, so much better than the crap they spew out over the speakers at Starbucks). Wifi is fast and reliable, service is friendly, and customers are interesting.

So no complaints – another great spot to move from the “going to visit” list to he “got to go back to” list.

NYLO Hotel Roof

Last weekend, Candy and I drove down to the Bishop Arts District for lunch at Eno’s and on the way back, we decided – spur of the moment thing – to stop off at a spot Candy had seen on the web. There is a new boutique hotel – The NYLO opening up in Southside – and they had a bar and infinity pool on the roof. The person writing the article said the view of the Dallas Skyline from the bar was the best in the city.

We parked and walked up at about one in the afternoon. The place wasn’t even officially open – it was in the middle of a “soft opening.” The woman from the front desk gave us a tour of the lobby and the restaurant. Pretty damn cool, if you ask me – especially the lobby room called “The Library” with a case full of books and funkified seating all around. Then she walked us over to the elevator and took us up to The Soda Bar on the roof.

The article wasn’t kidding, the view from up there is jaw-dropping.

click for a larger and more detailed version

We hung around chatting with the folks that worked there and some customers. They didn’t have any beer on tap – but I made sure they would have some local Deep Ellum Brewing Company products available (they will have the Double Brown Stout and Deep Ellum IPA) when they officially open (which they have by the time you read this).

I kept thinking what the view would look like at sunset, so we sneaked across the street for dinner at Cedars Social and then came back to watch the sunset.

When we finally left to drive back to suburbia we came across the same woman in the lobby that had given us our tour. She said, “Are you still here – I’ve been home and changed and come back again and you’re just leaving?” I said we came back for the sunset.

The place may get too uppity and twee after it gets established – it’s also a bit too far to be a neighborhood hangout – but I’m sure I’ll be back. I could get used to hanging out there. That view is too good to miss.

Secret Slob Sauce!

I felt like another food truck, so checking the schedules, I found that Ruthie’s Rolling Cafe was serving lunch down at a flea market at Southside on Lamar – so off I went.

Southside is an odd sort of place. It is a modern urban development constructed out of an old massive Sears Warehouse just south of Downtown Dallas. Like a lot of new developments here, it is teetering on the edge of a critical mass – people, money, entertainment, shopping. So far, so good. I’d like to live there if I could afford it.

I had seen Ruthie’s before, it was next to the SsahmBBQ truck down in the arts district when I had some Kimchee Fries. The Ruthie’s truck looked inviting, even though I chose the Korean BBQ tacos for the evening. I was glad to finally get to check the chow out.

The truck was parked on the street right up against the red brick of the old warehouse.

There was a big crowd waiting in line. A lot of folks were down there for the flea market and the truck was an irresistible draw. They were already running low on raw materials – no chicken, Turkey, or cheddar cheese.

To make things go quicker, the line passed down a pad and some markers, so you could fill out your choice while you waited. It all looked good. The Secret Slob Sauce looked irresistible – plus they were passing around a plastic ramekin of the stuff along with a bit of chips… so you could check it out.

The wait went quickly, the sandwich was delicious.

Folks waiting in line… some with flea market crap they had bought. Everybody was friendly and chatting. They were playing classic oldies rock – the young guy taking orders asked me if I liked Boston (“More than a Feeling” was blaring out of the speakers). He said he had seen Boston and Styx not too long ago and it was, “The best concert I had ever seen.” I told him I thought I’d seen Boston and Styx in nineteen seventy eight – more than thirty years ago. Now that I think about it… it was Styx with Rick Derringer, Steve Miller and Frampton that I actually saw.

Jesus, that was a long time ago.

The big question with a food truck is where do you chomp down your grub? The Southside Building had recessed windows along the sidewalk where you could sit and scarf. All very fun.