Saturday, August 19, 2006

The finest coffeeshops in all of Minneapolis...

Nowadays, I get pretty much all my writing done at coffeeshops and cafes near my apartment*. The reasons for this are simple. My home is too distracting to get anything done in. I’ve got the internet, I’ve got piles of books I haven’t read, scads of e-mails I haven’t responded to, a thousand CDs, dozens of DVDs, things I need to clean, things I need to fix, bills I ought to pay and all sorts of other temptations. Yet, at the same time, my pleasant little rooms can be awfully unstimulating at the same time. It’s just my boring walls, my boring floor and all my boring junk, after all. I need to be able to concentrate, of course, but I also need activity going on around me so that I don’t fall into some horrid vortex of self-involved artistic loserdom. So I head off to one of several convenient independent coffeeshops, purchase some foo-foo beverage, spread my notebook pages out in front of me, and chase the muse until I’m sick of it.

I’m pretty easy to please. For a cafe to get my regular business, it needs only to fulfill these three requirements:

1) It needs to sell coffee drinks.

2) It needs to be within a mile of my home

and, most importantly,

3) It needs to have an atmosphere that assures that I don’t feel like some creepy weirdo for pouring my infinitesimal handwriting onto several dozen legal sheets for hours and hours on end. Foolish as it may seem, I’m sensitive about the size of my handwriting. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s insane-person small. But I’m not an insane person. I don’t want to be mistaken for an insane person. Consequently, I like to go to coffeeplaces that cater to sorts who are far more obviously eccentric than I am. That way I can blend unselfconsciously into the background and get a whole lot of paragraphs polished off.

Also, I don’t like to go to the same place every single day. I need at least a little variety, so I tend to cycle randomly through the ones I like. Luckily, I live in an area that’s rich in locally-run coffee outlets, so I’ve got plenty of options. Here are a few of my current favorites, which I recommend you also patronize whenever you’re in the Whittier/Wedge area of Minneapolis, Minnesota:

1) The Acadia (on the intersection of Nicollet and Franklin)

This is my current top choice, largely due to the fact that they also serve tasty and nutritious food. Their coffee drinks are fine, of course, but I have to confess that I’m not really discerning when it comes to those. What’s important to me is the glorious magic of caffeine, without which I would be a whimpery husk of a man, and not the vehicle by which it reaches my bloodstream. I recommend their latte, since it has milk in it and I’ve been told that milk is good for you. But you can get pretty much anything you want and sit there for hours on end: no one’s gonna bother you. The staff is cool and the place isn’t usually very crowded, which means that the vibe is appealingly laid back.

They also serve fancy beers, and in the evening they have small concerts and plays, if any of those things interest you. I’m not so big on all that, so I can’t tell you much about that aspect of the place. Basically, it’s a great neighborhood spot and I get scads and scads of writing done there. My only complaints about the place are small and petty. I don’t care much for the music they play---which is fine, since I have an iPod---and I sometimes get testy when it fills up with beefy, middle-aged book club members who want to shoo me out of my spot so they can push a bunch of tables together and jabber on endlessly and at an uncouth volume about whatever dull author they like this month, all the while spraying forth a ceaseless mist of breadcrumbs and spit.

I also feel that, as one-quarter French-Canadian, I should get a discount at a place called the “Acadia”. But maybe that’s just me.

2) The Spyhouse (on the corner of Nicollet and 25th)

This place is more hipsterish than the Acadia, and it serves less food. I often don’t like to eat when I write, however, so their limited menu doesn’t matter to me. The music they play here is usually better than the Acadia’s, and they have more seating. They also have outside tables, if you’re a smoker or one of those perverts who likes to be outdoors. I find that the spacious and airy aspects of this place make it very conducive to my sort of pretentious arty-fartyhood. You aren’t crowded in with a bunch of strangers, and all the light that comes in through the big windows makes it easy to see what you’re doing. Plus, it’s only two blocks from my apartment, which I realize isn’t a recommendation for anyone else, but it means it’s mighty convenient for me.

I’ve heard people say that the baristas here can be vicious in that sullen art-student way, but I’ve never been treated badly here. Perhaps those critics are just oversensitive. Perhaps they’re the wicked sort who demand bubbly enthusiasm from the college kids charged with preparing their daily cappuccinos. I don’t know. It hasn’t been a problem for me. In fact, I’m so fond of this place that, over the years, I’ve written at least thirty short stories there. That and about fifty blog posts, twenty or so book reviews, dozens and dozens of senseless blurbs and vignettes, and a hefty chunk of one novel.

You’d think that all that creative toil would be worth a twenty-percent discount, wouldn’t you? I sure do, but maybe that’s just me...

3) Caffetto (sort of on the corner of Lyndale and 22nd)

This place is very similar to the Spyhouse in vibe, except that it’s a lot smaller and darker and the staff’s reputation for rudeness is actually deserved. But I like it all the same. I like small and dark, and I don’t give a shit if an underpaid college kid wants to be rude to me. I don’t take that sort of thing personally. The music that gets played for you here is usually fine, and the muffins they sell are damn tasty.

The joint has sort of beaten-up look to it, and sometimes—especially if I’m there when the sun’s down and the lamps on the table are all that’s left to light the place—I can squint and pretend I’m in some dingy corner of Budapest, sipping my latte several years before the Soviet collapse. For some reason, that’s the sort of thing that appeals to me. I doubt that there would be so many willowy punkettes and tattooed band-poseurs on that side of the Iron Curtain, but still...

Anyway, it’s an appealing enough place, but I don’t go there as often as the other two. It’s relatively far away and if I don’t land a table with a lamp it can be hard for me to see what I’m writing. Maybe if they offered me a discount, I could be persuaded to make the trip more often...

*Not that you asked, but the one exception is this blog, which is usually written directly into the computer whenever I find a spare half-hour or so.