With its late hours (open until 3 AM on weekends), Halcyon is the quintessential coffee bar in downtown Austin, popular at any time, and stuffed to overflowing during South By Southwest. Its location near many of the music venues is part of the attraction, as is its menu, featuring everything from smores and other desserts to breakfast sandwiches and paninis. They play great music too, if you can hear it, but Halcyon is almost always crowded and always noisy, even at 2 AM. But that’s a lot of the fun, as you begin to realize that everybody had the same idea you did…to hit up Halcyon after the last showcases were over.
TOMS began life as a shoe company, making a modified kind of Argentinian shoe for the North American market, and giving a pair of shoes to needy kids abroad for every pair purchased. This “one for one” business model proved popular, and in 2011, the company expanded to eyewear, making eye care and glasses available to the needy. Now, they have expanded again into coffee, with beans imported from Rwanda, Guatemala, Peru and Malawi, making clean, pure water available in developing countries for every pound of beans purchased. The TOMS Roasting Company shop on South Congress Avenue had been closed on Wednesday, but fortunately, on Thursday it was open, and although the line was long, it moved rapidly. Not all the menu items were available, but I was able to try a latte, which was delicious. As it was South By Southwest, a live band was playing on the back patio.
TOMS Store and Cafe
1401 South Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 350-2115 http://www.toms.com
After I left the block party in Crosstown, I headed out to The Grindz Coffee in Cordova because I had heard that they occasionally have jazz there on Friday nights. On this particular Friday night, they were not featuring jazz, but they did have a live neo-soul/funk band called PurElegance that was rather impressive. Unfortunately, the live music on Fridays at Grindz only runs until 9 PM, so I only got a chance to check out three tunes or so as I enjoyed my latte. But the atmosphere is comfortable, and Grindz features good music and coffee.
Finding espresso and cappuccino has never been easy in the Mississippi Delta, but it is getting easier thanks to the opening of new coffee bars like Crave Bistro in Cleveland, Mississippi. As the name suggests, Crave is not only a coffee bar, but also a full restaurant open for breakfasts and lunches, and it also features a selection of sweets and desserts, including cupcakes. I tried a chocolate one, and found it irresistibly delicious, if a little messy (eating them in your car is NOT advised). Crave closes at 5 PM, so get there early!
On the first Saturday afternoon of the summer, I took a ride out to the town square in Collierville to check out Square Beans Coffee, and I have to say I was impressed. The coffees and espresso drinks are good, and the shop also features glass-bottled craft sodas and ice creams. Square Beans is open until 9 PM on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and occasionally features live music.
When Cockadoos closed a couple of years ago, downtown Memphis was left without a source for espresso-based drinks, aside from the Starbucks inside the Westin hotel across from the Fed Ex Forum. So when I heard that a new place had opened on Gayoso Avenue called Tamp & Tap, I was eager to try it. As the name suggests, Tamp & Tap is a little bit more than the usual coffee bar. It offers coffee drinks, using Chicago’s Metropolis brand, but it also offers craft beers, and a small menu of salads, sandwiches and baked goods, including cookies and brownies. The space is surprisingly large and inviting, with rustic wooden walls, and comfortable couches. Although the official hours are until 9 PM each night, Tamp & Tap has been staying open until 11 PM on Friday and Saturday nights, and is definitely worth a visit for some really good coffee, a cold beer, or just a place to chill.
I have discussed Clarksdale’s superb Yazoo Pass coffee bar elsewhere, so here it is sufficient to report that they have added a full dinner menu that includes steaks and hamburgers. During any Clarksdale festival, the Yazoo Pass is the place to be. During Juke Joint Festival, it was a refuge from the unseasonable cold, and this weekend, during Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Fest, it was a refuge from the heat, with both frozen coffees and frozen yogurt as well.
I was not at all thrilled when I heard last November that Atlanta’s Cafe Intermezzo would be moving from its long-time location in upper Midtown on Peachtree to a location in a hotel closer to downtown. Ostensibly, the move had something to do with lack of parking at the traditional location, but I imagined that parking would be even more cramped (or expensive) in the area near Peachtree and 10th they were moving to. After visiting the new location last weekend, I have to be honest and admit that there are some things I like about the new spot. They validate parking, so parking is free for the first two hours (but it is $20 afterwards, so beware!). The new location doesn’t seem quite as cramped, and while there is no back patio, there is plenty of outdoor seating in true European coffeehouse style. The dessert case seems smaller at the new location, and there seem to be fewer dessert choices, but the drink menu hasn’t changed a bit, and while the new location seems more crowded (the popular Vanquish nightclub is across the street from it), the atmosphere is pretty much the Intermezzo I’ve always known. So while I will always miss the original, I’m not as disappointed with the new location as I expected to be. As always, Intermezzo is a must-visit when in Atlanta, and is open until 3 AM on weekends.
It had been some years since I had been to Cincinnati, so I decided to head to my favorite neighborhood of the city for dinner, Mount Adams, and wanting to get a view of the city, I decided to eat at the Celestial Steakhouse. With a location on the edge of Mount Adams, Celestial does offer one of the best views of downtown Cincinnati, as its big picture windows face west toward the skyline. As for the food, I was somewhat disappointed. The filet mignon was very good, but the baked potato was dry and not at all soft, and while such a criticism might seem petty, at Celestial’s kind of prices, everything should be perfect. More disappointing was that the management has decided to replace the usual jazz music (which would have been very appropriate for the ambiance and setting of Celestial) with a rock-oriented pop group.
There had been coffee bars on Mount Adams the last time I was there, and there is still at least one, called the Bowtie Cafe, which was open, although not at all crowded. They serve Intelligentsia Coffee, as well as a small selection of baked goods and foods.
In the Fall of 2012, I had been thrilled to discover a coffee bar in the Treme neighborhood called Cafe Treme, so when I heard in December that it had closed, I was very disappointed indeed. Fortunately, it reopened almost immediately in January as the Treme Coffee House, owned by the same people that own Cafe Envie in the French Quarter. The bright, tropical colors remain on the outside, the inside is still quiet and comfortable, and most importantly, the coffee is still really good. And I was especially impressed by the amazing art work on the wall entitled “Como Fife and Drum”, a tribute to the late Otha Turner, who led many fife and drum bands and picnics in Senatobia and Como, Mississippi. Seeing that tradition referenced here, in the neighborhood where African-American brass band music was likely born was quite interesting and powerful.