[UPDATE: Checkout the updated list of Austin's best coffee shops for 2013]
On Wednesday I kicked off my list of Austin’s Top Ten Coffee shops. These choices were not easy—every name on this list stands for a place with its own special charm, devoted clientele and unique atmosphere. Honorable mentions like Rio Rita, JP’s Java, The Green Muse, Quacks, Progress Coffee and countless others all have strong arguments in their favor and plenty of people who will vouch for them. They would probably make the Top Ten in just about any other town. But sadly this is Austin.
And it goes without saying that Austin’s Top Five Coffee shops are among the best anywhere.
Welcome to the Top Five:
5. Mozart’s Coffee Roasters
3825 Lake Austin Blvd.
Nestled on the shores of Lady Bird Lake with a spectacular view of the hill country, Mozart’s is the definition of an upscale, European, coffee house. With bottomless cups of gourmet coffee from around the world, a superb bakery, and two-story outdoor deck, Mozart’s is the unrivaled choice for pure class. Come watch the sun set over the lake and see the twinkling lights of Tom Miller Dam.
1601 Barton Springs Rd.
Having a cup of coffee or a beer at Flipnotics can feel a bit like hanging out in a tree house. Settled atop a hillside in the Barton Hills, below a canopy of trees, Flipnotic’s shaded deck and indoor seating offer the safety and comfort of a mountain clubhouse. And like any good clubhouse, Flipnotics specializes in unusual concoctions—if you’re curious, try the “Moonquake Shake,” a delicious banana-coffee milkshake. At night, Flipnotics indoor seating turns into an intimate venue for live music.
5011 Duval Street @ 51st
Deep in the heart of Hyde Park, just a few minutes away from the University of Texas, lies one of Austin’s classic study spots. Comfortable, spacious and uncluttered, Flighpath is dedicated to the fine art of ‘getting-it-done.’ They proudly refer to themselves by the unflattering moniker of “home office away from home” and extol their lack of live music, poetry slams and comedy hours. But don’t be deceived; Flightpath is in no way stodgy. This worn-in, artsy, hangout, with a sociable backyard patio, exudes energy and creativity. And when you’re down to the wire, there’s no better place to be.
2. Epoch Coffee
221 W North Loop Blvd
Just down the road from Flightpath, lies Epoch, the heir to Mojos, a legendary coffeehouse that once lined a corner on the northern fringes of The Drag. With puffy chairs and couches, an odd assortment of tables, lamps from the happy 1960s, dark mahogany wood, and a seemingly perpetual game of chess in a far corner, Epoch instantly commands a distinct vibe. Their co-ed bathrooms are referred to as ‘heaven’ and ‘hell,’ and are decorated with the appropriate murals and customer graffiti. In ‘hell’ one finds the words of Jean-Paul Sartre scribbled on the wall with a sharpie: “hell is other people.” This can be true. On some evenings—especially Sundays and throughout the finals season— Epoch can turn into a riotous affair with scarce seating and crammed patios full of caffeinated smokers. Learn it, love it, live it.
Yes, Epoch is a love-it-or-hate-it experience, and there’s nothing quite like it.
1. Spider House
2908 Fruth St.
Like Epoch, everyone has a strong opinion about Spider House. Just off Guadalupe Street, a few blocks north of the campus, Spider house is a place that enjoys a variety of adjectives: glamorous, pretentious, eclectic, colorful—happening.
Yes, ‘happening’ is probably the most appropriate.
One person on the Yelp Message Board put it like this: “Things happen here, which I am leaving intentionally vague.” Another writes, “I’ve long heard that there were quirky, nay, interesting happenings [there].”
So what exactly is happening at Spider House? First of all, the outside patio looks a little bit like a cross between a junkyard and an eclectic, garden museum. A fountain constructed out of bronze cherub and a bathtub is only the tip of the iceberg. You can also find a handful of gargoyles inside and outside. Aside from its splendid décor, Spider House can be counted on for free movie screenings, DJs and an assortment of you-name-it cultural events.
But what really makes Spider House a ‘happening’ place is how blatantly scene it is. Or is it “seen”? Either way, this is definitely a place where people go to be looked-at and eavesdropped, to ogle and to overhear. It’s also a place for chance table-joiners and bombastic Christmas lights. Be there or be square—seriously.
And that wraps up Austin’s best coffee houses.
“But Ben!” you say, “You’ve hardly said anything about actual coffee this whole time!” That’s true. This list is not based on the individual house-blends or the overall selection at any of these places. If you’re on this list, it’s because you are unique and wonderful place to spend an afternoon. A good cup of coffee is a given. That being said I do want to let you in on the absolute best cup of coffee in the whole city:
1601 West 38th Street
Not a sit-down experience like the other names on this list, Anderson’s is a boutique located in the quaint little plaza on 38th Street. Everyday Mr. Anderson himself, the protégé of Alfred Peet of Peet’s Coffee, offers a $1 cup of coffee from one of his glorious, international blends. This coffee not only tastes better than others, it actually gives you a better buzz. (This is probably not scientifically verifiable, but it’s been my experience.)
Ok, that’s it! Please, let us know what you think. Vote in our poll. And definitely speak up about all the wonderful places I’ve neglected.