In Ancient China, the Forbidden Palace was a sacred place reserved for the Imperial family and high priests who forged the destiny of the empire. Today, there is a Starbucks in the center of it. All the culture of China with the bitter grinds of American corporate capitalist marketing.
It’s no secret that Starbucks seems to be taking over the world; if they were trying to be clever about it, putting one on every other corner was probably a bad move. Recently, however, the corporation’s sales have been sharply plummeting, as more people have recovered from drinking the Kool Aid and are seeking out coffee houses that sharply deviate from the sterile cookie cutter environment Starbucks offers.
In a futile effort to remedy this in August of 2009, Starbucks began putting up coffee houses under the company, but with different names like “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” in Seattle.
National radio commentator Jim Hightower comments, “genuine neighborhood coffee shops genuinely have a ‘community personality.’ It’s not something that can be faked or “given,” much less replicated into a chain of 16,000 outlets.”
This manufactured authenticity married to pretentious personalities and ridiculous prices when added up over time catalyzes the need to move on and find cool and alternative coffee houses that can provide everything Starbucks can’t.
Southwestern students are living in the best of both worlds in terms of finding these places, Austin 30 minutes away while tucked away here in Georgetown – it just becomes a matter of knowing where to look.
In Austin, the three places that I checked out the most were Flipnotics on Barton Springs Road, Epoch on the North Loop, and Bennu on MLK Blvd.
Flipnotics was by far my favorite place out of the three. Driving down the street, you wouldn’t really give it a second glance because it is on the second floor of a green building, the kind of place where you have to enter through the back. The ordering bar, although somewhat cramped, is constantly host to a consistent stream of people walking through the door and everyone behind the counter is fun and absolutely hilarious.
Ordering coffee there brings the feeling of being back home, as the drinks are served from mugs unless it is made to go, and the food menu that accompanies the coffee and alcohol that is also served is expansive – tacos, empanadas, pizza, and cupcakes just to name a few.
As one employee describes it, “Flipnotics is all about the music – local artists are playing here almost seven days a week.”
Willis Findley, a regular there, builds upon this by commenting that it just has a “great social dynamic and the chance to see lots of great musicians.”
While I was there, when a customer was short on change, he was freely helped at the counter, and when there was an instance of limited seating, I saw a lot of people offering to share their tables for the upcoming concert. It’s the creativity in the artsy design of the place, commitment to local artists and the spirit of community that make this place exceptional.
To contrast, Epoch is definitely more of a place for quiet study and work, where you almost look out of place if you are not hidden behind a laptop. The coffee is absolutely fantastic, however their menu is rather limited.
I loved the layout of this place and all of the vintage elements, but it almost seemed cold, pretentious and more like Starbucks than anything else – especially the employees, who didn’t seem to have the time for a quick statement when the line was completely dead. However, there was plenty of seating and community posters were put up all over the building, which enriched its ties to the local community.
Thirdly, Bennu Coffee is somewhat a happy medium between Flipnotics and Epoch. It’s an adorable place to grab a cup of coffee and study in a comfy chair – true to the owner’s values of “wanting to create a different kind of coffee bar, where it feels like you are in someone’s living room instead of just another business.”
The service here is really friendly, and the special spiced hot cider was comforting and perfect. On their menu, their commitment to local business is apparent via serving Torchy’s Tacos in the morning and Hoboken Pizza for lunch.
Some other great places in Austin to check out would definitely be: Flightpath (Duval), Dominican Joe’s (South Congress), Progress (East 5th), Halcyon (6th), Spider House Cafe (Fruth St.), and Mozart’s Coffee Roasters (Lake Austin Blvd.).
Here in Georgetown, the Cianfranni Coffee Company (on the Square) and Red Poppy Coffee Company (in the public library) offer cute alternatives for coffee.
On campus, the Koruva milk bar and coffee bar in the library offer convenient places to study or meet up with friends and classmates. Zoe Selbin, a former employee at Koruva, describes it as “a place where you can quietly study in the afternoon, then party away in the night. Koruva reminds me of the kind of beautiful little place you’d find in Austin on the east side, full of life and love and laughter.”
In a world where individuality is fleeting and corporate productivity fuels action, small independent coffee houses bring us into free communities of raw humanity where art, music and great coffee can be appreciated. Whether they are in Austin or Georgetown, these shops have their own premium blends: of people, service and atmosphere.
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