Serving Up Common Grounds
Caffeine headache? Hangover? If you're on campus, you don't have far to go for relief. The neighborhood around the university has plenty of options for coffee lovers.
Here's a brief guide:
1730 E. Speedway Blvd. This pleasant café and restaurant has good coffee at competitive prices. The house blends are strong and flavorful, and their more elaborate drinks such as mochas and espressos are also tasty treats. Bentley's strong points include a friendly staff, fresh and healthy meals (try their bread, fruit and cheese plate) and great smoothies. The interior is relaxed, with modern art on the walls and free newspapers. Outside seating is marred by nearby traffic on Speedway Boulevard, but the management plans to plant a row of trees which should help cut down the noise and dust. Bentley's is open later than any other university-area cafés, from 7 a.m. to midnight, every day of the week. If you need a break from an all-nighter at the library, this is the place to go. Bentley's hosts an open mike night every Thursday from 8-11 p.m. and live music on Fridays and Saturdays from 9-11 p.m.
820 E. University Blvd. It's a bustling café/restaurant, with great food and coffee. The food prices are a bit higher than Bentley's, but both places have large portions and provide good value. The staff here really know their stuff so the coffee is strong and brewed to perfection. Their special Ghirardelli mochas are a chocolate-lover's dream. The interior is good for lounging, with art on the walls and plenty of newspapers available. It looks more like somebody's living room than a café. There is plenty of outdoor seating, with most of it in the shade. Unfortunately, the birds also enjoy the shade, so you might have to clean off your chair before you sit down. Hours for the fall semester are not yet available, but they will be open from breakfast to dinner time most days.
845 E. University Blvd. If you are more comfortable with a big city-style café, Coffee Plantation may be the place for you. The drinks are standard, and while they provide consistent quality, nothing really stands out. They offer tasty pastries and meals. The indoor seating is comfortable, but a bit too busy to be a relaxing environment. There is definitely more of a big business feel to the place. A wide variety of newspapers are available, but are attached to those annoying stick things that libraries use to deter theft. Not only are they cumbersome to handle, but they can't be folded. Trying to manipulate one of these monstrosities while leaving room on the table for a drink and a meal should be an Olympic event. Outdoor seating is pleasant, with umbrellas providing shade. While trees would be nicer, at least you won't be dive-bombed by pigeons. A wide variety of coffee makers, beans and other supplies are for sale here. Coffee Plantation is open 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 7 a.m.-11 p.m., on Sundays.
802 E. University Blvd. Considered by many the "McDonald's of coffee shops," this national chain provides standard drinks at standard prices. The variety is good, but they really don't excel at anything. Better coffee can be found at any independent café. While a quiet back room makes this Starbucks less impersonal than others in the chain, it still lacks the personality and friendliness of the independents. They are open from 6:45 a.m.-11 p.m. Union Square Café, in the basement of the Memorial Student Union, serves Starbucks coffee. So, if you're in a hurry, you might want to give it a try.
745 N. Fourth Ave. An artsy place at the gateway of Fourth Avenue, Epic Café is a good place to relax and peoplewatch. Comfortable leather seats and nice wooden tables encourage lounging. There's outside seating, but the large picture windows - not to mention the fans whirling overhead - make staying indoors more comfortable. The coffee and food are good, and the staff is friendly. The hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day.
Casbah Tea House
628 N. Fourth Avenue. The tea house is a favorite of Fourth Avenue denizens. The inside is decorated with Tibetan and Indian art. Customers sit at low, Middle Eastern tables, under the protective gaze of a wooden statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity. The crowd is an interesting mix of hippies, townies and traveling backpackers. The friendly and laid-back staff serves up vegetarian and vegan meals and good coffee. Casbah is the only establishment in the university area that serves good chai - a tasty spiced Indian tea that gives a terrific buzz. Other places make it from a bottled mix, but the folks here brew it from scratch. I was addicted to chai for three months in India, and Casbah's brew brings back fond memories. The other places don't come close. There is live entertainment every night, including belly dancing on weekends. Casbah Tea House is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.