Because of its large population of students and artists, Austin is a hotbed for eclectic, privately owned coffee shops—Austin houses more of these coffee shops than most large cities in America. With local favorite Little City slated to move or close by January 2011, and with several new coffee shops cropping up in recent years, it seemed like a good time to assess the changing landscape of Austin’s coffee scene.
I love ‘Top Ten’ lists. Their neatness alone commands credibility. But really, why should you trust me? Isn’t this just a matter of taste? Citysearch provides a voter based listing, though it hasn’t been updated since 2005. But can we really trust the democratic process? I think not. My list is based on over 20 years in Austin and countless all-nighters. I may be bleary-eyed and a little wired, but I know what I’m talking about.
It should also be mentioned that this list will not include any corporate chains. Some of these places make a great cup of coffee, but they aren’t what makes the Austin’s coffee scene what it is.
Without further ado, here’s the first five in my list of Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops.
In reverse order:
10. Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse
1501 South First
Just a few minutes from Downtown Austin along South First Street, Bouldin Creek is an artsy coffee shop with a nice blend of outdoor, indoor and covered seating. Apart from its distinctly laid-back South-Austin feel, Bouldin Creek distinguishes itself with an excellent food menu. With both vegan and vegetarian options—even a “gluten free menu”—their breakfasts are superb.
218 W 4th St, Austin, TX
Located in the heart of Downtown Austin, Halcyon bills itself as a Coffee Shop/Bar/Lounge hybrid. Far more chic than the other names on this list, this coffee shop owes its special appeal to its location and a unique crossover ambiance. I often hit up Halcyon when I’m downtown for drinks and need to recharge—or I actually want to hear the person I’m sitting next to.
8. Little City Espresso Bar & Café
916 Congress Avenue Right on Congress Avenue, Little City is Austin’s classic downtown coffee shop. They’ve won accolades from all the usual suspects, including the Austin Chronicle Reader’s Poll, The Statesman, and Texas Monthly—Heck, they even come recommended by the New York Times. If you’ve never been before, you need to stop by before they close their doors indefinitely in January 2011.
7. Café Mundi
1707 E. Sixth Café Mundi provides a totally unique ambiance. Hidden in plain site a few blocks East of I35 on Sixth Street, in the vicinity of Mexican dive bars and family diners, this coffee shop has “escape” written all over it. A beautiful garden filled with crate myrtles compliments a cozy little interior. This is by far my favorite spot on the south end of the east side.
6. Bennu 24 Hour Coffee Lounge
2001 E. MLK Blvd.
Bennu wins the ‘Best New Coffee Shop’ award. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the “living room” style established by predecessors Flightpath and Epoch, but Bennu’s ambiance falls comfortably between the two—a little cozier than Flightpath and a lot quieter than Epoch. This comfortable, hip place is perfect for work and study. Though it hasn’t yet generated enough of a scene to crack the Top Five, for most people, Bennu might be the most appealing choice on the whole list.
To see who rounds out the top five, check back this Friday when I discuss Austin’s tiptop cup of joe.