AAR Must Coffee
When reviewing coffee shops most people use criteria such as the quality of the bean & the roast and the ability & creativity of the barista. But I have very different criteria, let’s call them the AAR Coffee Rating Exemplar (ACRE).
The coffee must be hot. Now some may think this a given, but trust me that this is an issue in more than a few places.
The chairs must be comfortable. Think over stuffed club chairs. Someplace I can read the New York Times or Plato’s The Republic in a style befitting a man of my position.
The nosh must be tasty: A variety of freshly baked goods is required.
The vibe must be interesting: Maybe it’s relaxing, funky, hip (but not too hip), great music, an interesting theme.
Intangibles: Maybe the owner is really personable or there are great views to be had or great art or architecture to be inspected.
The below establishments meet all five ACRE criteria and are therefore an AAR Must Coffee.
Kansas City: MO:
• Mildred's (Crossroads): Hot coffee with friendly service, comfortable chairs, delicious oatmeal cookie, and a modern but relaxing vibe. It has a pleasant back room that has no windows per se, but large openings with jail bars and a crankin' natural gas-fired fire pit, which in this age of Covid is quite welcoming.
• Hi Tides Coffee (Crossroads): Located in an old warehouse, that has been taken over by Collective+Ex, which is an organization whose members sell coffee, some other stuff, and apparently CNC routing services. One of the members is not a marketer as after reviewing the space and the website, I have no idea what it is all about (I'm not even sure how to pronounce their name). What I do know is they sell hot coffee, tasty noshes (i.e. macadamia nut & pineapple cookies) in a relaxing space that evokes Hawaiʻi through tint and tone. Art deco and ratan furniture, intermixed with some Hawaiian kitsch with piped in steel guitar and ukelele music (though after hearing Aloha'Oe the second time around . . . it was time to go).
• Parisi Coffee (Union Station): I normally don't recommend spending that much time in any Union Station. This one like most was abandoned in the late '70s (even Amtrak "left the station"), sat derelict in the 80s, and was renovated in the 90s. Sip your hot cup of Joe while reviewing the restored head house then briefly tour the great hall (it contains a nice model railroad exhibit). If you're interested in a better understanding of how your grandparents used to travel, there are exhibits throughout the entire station that provide details of how it was built and what train travel used to be like (hint: faster, with more trains & destinations and more economical). If you're not, then pop into Pierpont's for a Flackhattan.
New Orleans. LA:
• Stumptpown Coffee: Located off the hotel lobby of the Ace Hotel, it comes with cool music & art, comfortable chairs and good people watching.
• The Tattered Cover: Hot coffee, in an overstuffed leather chair, with a tasty oatmeal raisin cookie, in a former mercantile building built in 1896 (with magnificent, massive exposed wood beams), and it's now a book store, which doesn't seem to mind that I peruse some of their inventory while drinking my coffee and eating my nosh. Can it get any better than that?!
• Pigtrain Coffee: Located in the recently renovated Union Station. Normally I give Union Stations a wide berth, but numerous Denverites told me different. So . . . the waiting area of the head house has been updated with wing back chairs and coffee tables, so I could enjoy my hot coffee and vanilla bean scone while I admired how people of a bygone era traveled in style and dignity, while my wife visited an adjacent flower shop.
• Dilla's Delights: After ordering a lemon glaze donut and a cup of joe, I asked about the photo of Roberto Clemente on the counter. The owner explained that his respect for Roberto helped him progress from "a youth spent smokin' dope and chasin' skirts". "At least it wasn't misspent" I replied (it got a laugh from the barista). I mentioned I was a Met fan and that we had Rusty Staub (who was not an equal of Clemente in talent, but in heart). He reminded me of Staub's Detroit connection - it was a nice moment. As I settled in and listened to some tunes and looked at the photos on the wall, numerous customers requested Dilla paraphernalia (shirts, magnets, etc.). I thought the owner might be Dilla (and these were all hardcore donut fans), but he informed me his name was Herman and the shop is named after his nephew J Dilla, the influential hip-hop artist and producer who died way too young (he was only 32). His most famous "album" is "Donuts" (take a listen). The shop is covered with photos of Herman's sports heroes: Greenberg, Koufax, Gervin (the best sport's nickname ever), and Earl Wilson.
Note: Though while there is seating, this place does not meet ACRE requirement #2 (comfortable chairs). But this is more than compensated by criteria 1, 3, 4, and 5.
Grand Rapids, MI:
• Common Grounds: Solid coffee and economical (cappuccino, coffee, éclair, and cranberry muffin = $8.90). Old editions of Chess Magazine were available. I read one from 1988 that featured an article about “Chess on Air Force One”, obviously not a recent phenomenon.
• Chicago Athletic Association: This place was an unexpected score. The Chicago Athletic Association went bankrupt in 2007 and has since been turned into:
-Fairgrounds Coffee (1st floor): Excellent (if pricey) coffee made to order for each customer (it takes a few minutes to grind your selection and brew it). If you like a medium blend go with the Stumptown or Collectivo, then take your coffee and nosh up to . . .
- The Drawing Room (2nd floor): An expansive "clubby" room filled with overstuffed leather chairs, sofas, fireplaces (x2), wall art, sculptures made from old athletic trophies and exquisite dioramas. An ideal place to sip your coffee, read the WSJ and think about a bygone age of integrity, civility and money.