Austin has been known for its individuality for decades. Though the chain stores and restaurants are slowly creeping their way in from the edges of Austin’s sprawl, still many independently owned shops blanket the heart of the city. Coffee shops in Austin truly capture the essence of what the city is known for- a friendly, laid back atmosphere, where one can feel a sense of community by joining their friends or making some new ones.
As Austin is a college town, coffee businesses thrive around the university, keeping students alert while cramming for upcoming exams. Though Quackenbushs held court on the Drag directly across from UT, they relocated with a slight reincarnation in the heart of Hyde Park with Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. Hyde Park is home to a large student population who enjoy not only the delightful coffee, but Quack’s large lineup of desserts and baked goods, which can be found distributed to other shops without an in-house bakery.
Spider House also plays host to students from an old renovated house overlooking Hemphill park, just north of campus. Though the inside is very cozy, the large outside decks of the Spider House see a lot of action, especially in the evenings when live DJs and bands play nightly, and the cheap drinks and free movie screenings only add to their popularity.
Though Little City just closed its campus location, its downtown location is going strong. Located on Congress Avenue, Little City is the obvious coffee shop choice for those who prefer a little local flavor to that of Starbucks (which is located directly across the street). Little City serves up a wide variety of coffee drinks, and over 15 whole bean blends from around the world, and if the diner is lucky, certain nights they serve up low priced entre and wine combinations with some good people watching from inside the shop or a small sidewalk table.
South of Little City, in the middle of the Second Street District, lies Austin Java’s third store location on the first floor of City Hall. Austin Java beat out 25 other local establishments vying for the slot, with its wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options- definitely a standout in the coffee shop business, when food options can be limited to a muffin or prepackaged breakfast taco.
South Austin is the heart and soul of the coffee house community. Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse promotes togetherness and a place for community action and people watching, like their website says it was, in the pre-franchise days. They offer an all vegetarian menu to accompany a cup of joe, and several nooks to gather or seclude, both inside and out, just off the banks of the creek.
As the coffee shop of the swanky San Jose Hotel on South Congress, Jo’s Coffee offers more than the coffee drinks and sweets available from the open air stand. The Rock N Reel happens every Thursday evening, with a themed pairing of music and movies, and Sundays bring the Sinners Brunch with live music and South Austin Speedballs, a three dollar long neck beer and coffee combo.
Further down South Congress lies Ruta Maya, possibly the king of the coffee houses. Housed in one of the re-purposed World War I aviation buildings, Ruta Maya seems sprawling compared to other shops. The space is needed however, as Ruta Maya is upholding the old tradition of the coffee shop as the Penny University- a common area where, for the price of a cup of coffee, one could be educated by other customers with experienced backgrounds. Today, for the price of a cup of coffee (now more than a penny), Ruta Maya offers yoga, tai chi, environmental awareness classes, and a single parent resource network, allowing Austinites to come together, enjoy each others company, and keep the bonds of the community strong.
Author Ki Gray runs a blog about Austin: http://www.escapesomewhere.com/austinblog/