I spent the weekend in Nashville, Tennessee recently, visiting three of our four sons. Yes, all three left Indiana to live in that great little city to the south and I love going there. Nashville has a unique flavor that has very little to do with country music. There’s just this wonderful creative vibe that really does vibrate from the riverfront, down Broadway, through the Batman building (look it up) and out into east and west Nashville.
Every time we visit Nashville, I try to convince my sons to take me somewhere new. This time, however, I was there just to see them and our only trips outside their neighborhood were to Target, a book store, a couple of thrift stores, favorite restaurants, a dog park and a couple of coffee shops.
Coffee shops. I love them. I work in one. Let me catch a whiff of a new coffee house brew and my barista antennae go up.
Two of the guys aren’t coffee drinkers, but on Saturday afternoon, I convinced my youngest (a college student who sometimes resorts to coffee) to stop with me at Headquarters, a quaint shop I visit whenever I’m in the city. There, I got a stout, highly-caffeinated pour that lasted me well into the evening, and was even better later over ice. Nice.
On my second morning in the city, I headed down the road to the nearest spot for really good coffee — Star Bagel on Murphy Road. I was hopeful, but it was Sunday morning and the place was packed. Young couples with kids in tow, single professionals carrying laptops or books, neighborhood regulars in jogging clothes or with a dog on a leash — all of them had already queued up for their morning java and bagel.
It looked like a long wait, so I drove further down Murphy Road toward a coffee shop I’d spotted earlier. Dose Coffee and Tea is in a corner strip mall right by the interstate. It was busy enough, but looked more promising than Star. My patience was rewarded with a fine vanilla latte (half the syrup) and a delicious gluten-free cinnamon scone (and a banana).
Early Monday morning, as I pointed myself north for the journey back to Indiana, I swung by Star Bagel again and this time, I came away with tall dark roast and a gluten-free lemon blueberry muffin. Perfect.
So, what did I learn on my coffee shop tour of Sylvan Heights in East Nashville? Location is everything and coffee-drinking folks of a certain stripe tend to congregate where they’ll find their tribe. You can learn a lot about human nature just hanging out in a coffee shop.
Headquarters is a quiet, hip joint, squeezed into what was once an alleyway with just a few tables, an exposed brick wall and outdoor seating off the back stoop. I get the feeling I’m invading someone else’s space when I walk in the front door and I stand out like the out-of-towner I am. It’s usually not very busy and the service is good. I just don’t hang around very long.
Dose is definitely a hipster watering hole and, if I’d taken a poll, I’m betting most of the clientele would like to see a certain 74-year-old gray-haired Socialist in the White House.
Star Bagel on a Monday morning was an entirely different shop than on the weekend. The young professionals and families were replaced by tables of graying regulars or plugged-in students. Standing in line to place my order, I heard this opening line in a conversation between a retired couple and a dark-suited businessman.
“Rick, Ben Carson needs your help.”
The older guy, who had been reading a newspaper, proceeded to tell his friend what the top conservative candidate for president needs to do to cinch the nomination.
Coffee is just coffee and we can certainly make our own at home. Maybe it’s the folks who share your favorite coffee-drinking spot that make going to a coffee shop worth the effort.
An astute American businessman about my age (Howard Schultz) said this:
“I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community.”
Me, too. Something to think about on a weekend trip to the city.