Jeff Pearlman

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The Search for the Perfect Writing Spot

I am about a week away from my book deadline (my SIXTH book deadline), and I’m still searching for the perfect writing spot.

I wish I were joking, but I’m not. Ever since I first began work on The Bad Guys Won more than a decade back, I’ve spent more time (and dough) in coffee shops than any American not employed by a Starbucks. I’ve been through much of New York and Florida, across Mississippi and all over Chicago, here and there and everywhere in Los Angeles and San Francisco and Boston. I have this ideal in my mind, and while I’ve come *this* close to reaching it, it’s always slightly out of my grasp—much like Stephen Hill trying to hold on to a football.

I digress.

Today, I find myself inside Brew Urban Cafe, a little spot in Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve spent the past two Floridian days in the nearby Starbucks, which is fine but, well, unoriginal and drab. So I asked on Twitter about Ft. Lauderdale coffee joints, and someone mentioned this place.

Sigh.

The above picture makes Brew Urban Cafe look cool, right? And maybe it is cool, if you’re 22 and drunk and hanging with your friends after the big Indigo Girls-Tesla show. But as a writer, it blows. Let me count the reasons:

1. Parking: You have to pay. Cost me $9 for six hours. Which isn’t awful, but sorta blows.

2. Ventilation: There is none.

3. Drink menu: It’s OK, but sorta meh. And friggin’ expensive. This drink—an Electric Shock—cost $5.10. Wanna know what’s in it? Coffee, milk, caramel and, I believe, a touch of cinnamon. I know … I know—you didn’t have to pay $5.10 for a drink. Sigh. You’re right.

4. Tables: The table I’m sitting at is awful. Small, round, four pegs. Worst of all—rocky. A rocky table is fucking death to a writer. At least to this writer.

5. Music. If a place is gonna play music, it has to be mellow and chill. Nobody comes to a coffee shop to hear your favorite industrial band’s demo. I’m pretty sure, right now, I’m listening to the barista’s favorite industrial band’s demo.

All that being said, I’ve been to worse. Much worse. In the Cosi near my house, the manager berates his employees in public. They are, almost unanimously, 19-year-old kids who take a 45-minute bus trek from the Bronx to make minimum wage (they can be shown respect). I’ve written in places with grimy floors, with dirty mugs. Once, at my local diner, I saw a busboy wipe the toilet without wearing gloves or, afterward, washing his hands. That was a low.

Not that you asked, but here are my absolute favorite writing joints:

1. The Freight House Cafe, Mahopac, N.Y.—The Muhammad Ali of coffee shops. Great owner, awesome food, lets the customer have a say in the music, cozy.

2. The Floridian, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.—One might ask, why am I whining about Brew Urban when my No. 2 joint is miles away? Well, I love The Floridian at night from, like 7 until 2 am. Food is awesome, vibe is cool.

3. Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi—In the middle of a crazy, backward state rests the greatest bookshop/coffee joint ever. Owner is the city’s former mayor.

4. Sunburst Cafe, NYC—I can’t explain this fully, because it’s sorta gross, and the bathroom forces one to not go to the bathroom. But when I write here, it just works.

5. Corner Bakery, Chicago—This is a chain, which feels like cheating. But there’s one location, on Whacker Street in Chicago, that just does it for me. Always busy and buzzing, free refills, etc.

PS: Brew Urban is selling this on the wall for $40. It’s a bathmat with two hearts glued atop. Uh … WTF?

  • John

    Sounds like first world problems to me.

  • davem

    As a restaurant owner in Florida, I can’t think of any less desirable customer that a lone writer who takes up a whole table and spends 4 or 5 hours and spends a couple of bucks on a drink that’s constantly refilled.

    • Jeff Pearlman

      that would be correct.

      • http://www.robwein.com Rob Weintraub

        You need to come down to Decatur, GA and write with me at Dancing Goats Coffee Shop, where I’ve done the bulk of my two books. Mellow but interesting music mix, wide tables as well as lounge-y chairs for when you need to relax, and they let me sit unabated forever whilst not actually drinking coffee (I never touch the stuff). I buy their great cookies (from a local bakery) as my contribution to the cause. Yeah, I’m a shitty costumer, but I mention the place in my acknowledgments, so there is a bit of payback.
        Two drawbacks–not many power strips, so I wind up sitting in the same two areas all the time, and the yoga studio/gym across the alley means I’m oft distracted by the ladies who pop in for a post-session repast. Otherwise–aces.

    • AM

      How about a writer who takes up a table for four hours and only spends a couple bucks on a single drink, THEN goes to his well-trafficked blog to trash the place for not meeting his own idiosyncratic standards?

      • Jeff Pearlman

        i usually spend at least $4

  • Nick

    Just a small thing, but I am a Chicagoian. It is Wacker Drive not street. No biggie just thought I would let you know.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life