I have always looked for places to recharge, to think, to read, to relax. Not so much because my life is so chaotic, but because I value the middah of chillaxing (which falls somewhere between yeshuv hadaas and menucha). This is probably a leftover habit from my high school days. I loved hanging out in used book stores and pretty much anywhere that offered bottomless cups of coffee. After high school when I lived NYC, I also sought outdoors/nature type locations where I could just sit for a while and think/meditate/hisbodedus (of course that can be done anywhere). When trying to chillax, the constant was always coffee. I inherited from my father a’h a love of good coffee and the joy of searching for off-the-beaten-derech places. It’s the slacker in me that loves sitting with a cup of something caffeinated and a sefer.
Speaking of coffee, I know I’m in the minority among bloggers, but the cRc’s “Starbucks beverage guidelines” have only helped me in my search for a great place to chill-out with an iced beverage. For me, it only really means giving up iced coffee at some places and I’m fairly open to their recommendations.
When I lived in NYC I had a close friend and we would trek all over Manhattan checking out coffee joints. For me, places that we liked fell into one of two categories: spots I would recommend to others and those few places that I’d keep to myself and not even take a date to until I knew that I’d marry her (for fear that if we stopped dating she would tell her friends about the coffee bar and then it would become frequented by other frum people).
My most recent search in Chicago has brought me to a cross-roads that I often think about. Allegiance to the spirit of the independent coffee bar versus the consistency of a corporation. The inner post-punk in me loves the feel and look of an independent store. However, it only takes one bad drink to realize and appreciate the uniformity and reliability that is offered by a “chain” of big green Starbucks locations. I am all for non-chain places, but there’s a comfort and reassuring feeling of going to a big green. Sort of like when you enter a new shul and find a familiar siddur or chumash, you feel more at ease. Chicago happens to fit both bills. With some web-base hunting, I’ve found some interesting locations to grab an iced latte. That’s the good news. The bad news, is that a majority of the places with high reviews are not open past 8 pm. Granted, being married with kids, if I am out past 9PM it usually means I’m grocery shopping or at minyan, but late hours is key for a coffee bar. Chicago, being the first city outside of Seattle to have Starbucks locations, also has plenty of locations all over open until, at least, 9 PM.
The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it. I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes.
Years ago, I dreamt of opening up a slick coffee bar (under an acceptable hechshar, of course). It would have various sefrei machshava available for the customers, offer a retreat from the hectic daily routine, be semi-family friendly, double as a performance space, be an acceptable location for high school aged kids to hang out, be “Jewish” enough for non-orthodox Jews, but not too “Jewish”, and offer informal learning in a laid back environment. The floor would be unfinished, there would be a minimum of one wall with exposed brick, the ceiling would have pipes and free hanging lighting, Reb Shomo playing softly over the sound system , and if you opened the front door for someone, you be paid with a “Thank you”.
Alas, I’m happy these days to find someplace with free parking and no annoying music.
The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it. I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or in this case, inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes. A throwback to my more carefree days, probably. I look at it like a retreat, like Shabbos or being in a Sukkah. A temporary recharge.