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.
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.
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.
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?