Remember when Starbucks was an honest-to-goodness coffeehouse?  Back when the help had enough tattoos that their flesh looked like wallpaper, enough piercings to set off an airport metal detector at 50 paces, and just enough of that cooler-than-thou attitude? Back when people were still reading newspapers?

Me, too… but barely.

I knew it was the end of an era when the soccer mom in line ahead of me brought rush hour to a halt while she agonized over whether to order the scone or the muffin. (I finally told the cashier to just give her both and put it on my tab, to the applause of everyone in line behind me.)

Where did it all go so wrong?

Maybe it was when Starbucks started selling more sandwiches than music CD’s, or when they began offering food-and-beverage “pairings” (a Happy Meal by any other name…).  Maybe it was when they began pumping out more frozen drinks every summer than a Dairy Queen, or when you couldn’t indulge yourself in the coffeehouse experience because the tables were all taken by not-actually-customers seeking only free wi-fi.

“All of the above,” is not a bad answer, but at the heart of Starbucks metamorphosis into a McDonald’s clone is its expansion into suburbs and Interstate rest stops.  That’s when the cashiers started to look and talk like they would fit in at least as well in a Dunkin’ Donuts.  It’s when patrons at the inside counter started taking a back seat to lengthening lines of drive-thru customers.  It’s when pre-teen kids started showing up for after-school treats at Starbucks instead of Baskin-Robbins.  (I expect any day now to see the first Starbucks with its own Playland or the Starbucks logo perched on the roofs of delivery cars.)

Fortunately, urban Dallasites don’t have to settle for so little, because independent coffeehouses are taking up Starbucks’ slack.  These are my top anywhere-but-Starbucks picks for Dallas, in no particular order:
DRIP COFFEE is located in the Park Cities on the south side of Lover’s Lane just east of the Dallas Tollway.

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

It has a Euro-contemporary ambiance that exudes passion for coffee.  Foodservice is limited to light fare that complements coffee.

The walls are hung with contemporary art, which makes it feel as much like a gallery as a coffeehouse.

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse Dallas 02

Drip Coffeehouse, Dallas

Its bright, uncluttered modern minimalism generates a tranquility all its own.

More about Drip at http://www.dripcoffeeco.com

 

 

WHITE ROCK COFFEE is located on East Northwest Highway just east of Audelia.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

While the stone walls and steel roof are charmingly Texana, this is a a newly-built-for-the-purpose structure, which along with its movie marquee style sign creates for me an off-putting first impression.  Fortunately it gets nothing but   better inside.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

A high, open-bean ceiling opens into loft seating that has an intimate feeling without the claustrophobia… kind of like sitting in a tree house.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

It’s not unusual to find the tables downstairs almost mostly empty, but the loft filled with silent laptop users.  Barstools and a counter along the loft railing look down on the dining area.

These guys are serious enough about coffee to roast their own, and serious enough about social responsibility and sustainability that the place is both a Certified Fair Trade Roaster and a Certified Rainforest Alliance Roaster.

There’s light entertainment here several nights weekly and an open mike night on Tuesdays.

More about White Rock at http://www.wrcoffee.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

THE PEARL CUP is located in a can’t-miss-it-lime-green building at the corner of Henderson and McMillan, just a couple of blocks north of where Ross meets Lower Greenville.

Metal tables, exposed rafters, concrete floors, and brick walls produce an industrial loft ambiance, although there’s plenty of art hanging.

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

 

The crowd here is a mix of young apartment dwellers, students and (more so on weekends)  M Street  homeowners. The menu is mostly limited to goes-well-with-coffee items.

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

There’s counter seating and table seating inside. There’s also patio seating when fickle Dallas weather permits and, of course, wi-fi.

More about Pearl Cup at:  http://www.thepearlcup.com
CORNER MARKET is located on Lower Greenville at McCommas.   It’s in the same building that houses the Buffalo Exchange recycled clothing store, a block south of the Granada Theater.

Corner Market, Dallas

Corner Market, Dallas

It connects through inside doors to a neighboring florist shop on one side and the Society Bakery on the other, creating the feeling of a covered urban market.

Corner Market, Dallas

Corner Market, Dallas

The crowd here is a bit older than at nearby Pearl Cup, a mix of Lower Greenville renters and – particularly on weekends – a big infusion of M Street homeowners.

There are plenty of pastries and chocolates in the display case here,  but the food menu is mostly deli – heavy on salads and sandwiches that earned it Dallas Observer Best Of in the Sandwich category.   The coffees are quite good, too. (No web site.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESPUMOSO COFFEE  is located in an old Bishop Arts District streetfront store between 7th and 8thStreets just across from Eno’s Pizza Tavern.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

Coffee is the undisputed centerpiece of a light menu of smoothies, ice cream, desserts, and pastries.  The house specialty is a selection of homemade empanadas.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

The piped-in music can get a bit loud, but the place is uncrowded during the day and although seating is limited the couches are quite comfortable.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

And they have by far the coolest T-shirt of any Dallas coffeehouse.

More on Espumoso at:  http://www.espumosocaffe.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE OPENING BELL is located in the historic Sears Building in Southside On Lamar, a block from the DART Rail Cedars Station (the Dallas nighttime skyline looks incredible from here, especially since the convention center hotel has lighted up.)  This place has the look of a Greenwich Village or North Beach coffeehouse.

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

To begin with it’s a basement walk-down.

Then there’s the life-sized poster of Townes Van Zandt, and the small stage and microphone set up in one corner.

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

The place serves pastries and sandwiches, but more importantly also beer and wine.  Wi-fi is free and its within stone-throwing distance of Brooklyn’s Jazz Café and the Absinthe Lounge, Poor David’s, and Gilley’s.  http://www.openingbellcoffee.com

 

 

 

There are  7 important attributes which separate these urban gems from the Starbucks Devolution:

  1. The architecture includes a ceiling of old tin tiles or exposed rafters and/or an exposed concrete floor.
  2. The décor exudes a funky or artsy one-of-a-kind ambiance.
  3. It has no drive-thru.
  4. Drinks consumed on-premise are served in ceramic cups instead of paper cups.
  5. The limited food menu pays homage to the caf-o-holic customer base… and it’s all hand-printed on a chalkboard.
  6. The staff has the requisite number of tats and piercings, dresses in black both on and off the job, and looks totally caffeine-wired and/or sleep-deprived.
  7. There is one and only one location.

P.S. Local chain Café Brazil is a noteworthy exception:  These people never let their restaurant business get in the way of their coffee business, and the people-watching – surely an important component of a great coffeehouse – can’t be beat.  I recommend the locations on Lower Greenville, in Deep Ellum, and in Oaklawn; best viewing around 3AM on just about any Sunday morning. http://cafebrazil.com


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