BEST STARISTA 2006 | Dan Bacon at Seattle Espresso | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
Baristas and bad attitudes go together like coffee and cream. So familiar are we to having our morning java jump-start served up with a side of surliness that when first encountering Dan Bacon, the super-friendly Joe-slinger at Seattle Espresso in Tempe, we thought we must've caught him on an off day. Turns out he's just extremely good at what he does and is well-known for it. Bacon who's been working the morning shift on Mondays and Wednesdays at the strip-mall coffee house for most of the past three years not only knows most of his caffeine-craving customers by name, but also by what they drink. He'll quickly whip up a double-shot espresso or mocha latte for his regulars while eagerly discussing how their day is going. He's also earned the nickname "Harry Potter," mostly because of his youthful countenance, square-framed black glasses, and a shock of brown hair, but also because of his affable nature. "People don't just want a cup of coffee," Bacon says. We can't resist we'll say it for him. They want their cup of coffee with a side of Bacon.
Longtime Tempe residents still lament the "old Gold Bar," a bigger incarnation of this hidden East Valley gem that was shut down years ago. But these complainers are missing the point it wasn't the building that made Gold Bar the most comfortable coffee joint in Tempe, it's the atmosphere created by the mismatched furniture, the fiercely loyal regulars and the baristas who actually remember your name and your drink after only a few visits. At all hours of the day and night, almost every table is occupied by laptop computers (wireless Internet is free), and though busy, the shop is never distracting. This at-home vibe (not to mention the seriously strong coffee) makes this our favorite place to set up shop on days when we just have to play hooky from the office.
Nestled in a charming group of new businesses in Seventh Street's Sheridan Square including the Belgian bistro Trente-Cinq 35 and the Lisa G salad-sandwich lunch spot is the irresistible Drip Coffee Lounge, owned by Vin Saccento and ex-Lux Coffeebar barista Gina Bell Madrid. There's a vintage elegance about the place, with stained concrete floors, chic '70s-style furniture, and a back room with art and design mags. A full menu of americanos, espressos, lattes, and a four-shot iced mocha complement the $5.50 all-organic breakfast, made with bread from Simply Bread and produce from Boxed Greens. The breakfast portions (served until noon) are small, so order two; we recommend the unbeatable cinnamon walnut French toast and the egg scrambled, a delectable creation of cream cheese, zucchini, onions, and scrambled eggs served with toast or as a sandwich. Drip offers complimentary wireless Internet, and it's open seven days a week and until 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Nothing drippy about that!



We're especially keen on this perfectly located, locally owned place because it really does encourage folks to mingle and hang around as long as they wish on the comfy sofas and chairs or out on the large patio. It's a terrific place to write, as long as you can find a nook somewhere and don't mind one of the friendly staffers a sweetheart named Katie comes to mind looking over your shoulder every now and then, and then reading your gibberish aloud to whomever's nearby. The food is good, plentiful and healthful, ranging from baked sweet potato fries to protein-packed smoothies, and a granola/oatmeal combo topped with fresh fruit. And don't fret, burger lovers. Soma charbroils a nice one if you insist. But we'd love this place even if the food was just serviceable, because it feels like home.
Timur Guseynov
Look for neighborhood regulars perched at the outside tables, Wi-Fi-ing away with well-behaved pooches at their feet. Enjoy mellow musical and literary events, or just drink in displays of fine art along with your espresso drink, tea, or smoothie. It's a perfect break from the wildly diverse shopping opportunities of Gaslight Square, although, frankly, sometimes you'll want a break from Mama Java's; the joint is really jumping, in a Zen-like way. Its mini-library, for instance, seems designed especially to inspire the musicians, artists and writers who hang here. One night during a bluegrass set, our companion mentioned he'd dreamed that his truck was stolen. We reached for Gustavus Hindman Miller's 1901 classic Ten Thousand Dreams Interpreted, and looked it up: "To dream that you are looking for a carriage, you will have to labor hard, but will eventually be possessed with a fair competency." Now he owes us a scone.
Lauren Cusimano
Okay, okay, so Copper Star Coffee is barely a toe's length over the western edge of the city, into the avenues. But we have to tip our latte to this adorable coffee house, the best we've found in the West Valley and tops on any Phoenix list, no matter how you map it. This onetime gas station has a drive-through, but you'll want to step inside to appreciate the concrete and cinder-block comfort (really, it's comfortable, try it out) of Copper Star. The bagels were fresh and the staffers were happy to toast them, not the case at inferior coffee houses where the customer is left to her own devices with an old toaster. The lighting was nice, the vibe was good; they let us hang some fliers on a big bulletin board strategically located near the restrooms. We'll definitely be back.


Coffee Talk

It's no coincidence that this neighborhood java spot shares a name with the faux talk show created by Mike Myers for Saturday Night Live. It's exactly the kind of place his character, Linda Richmond, would find appealing a charming, two-story historic bungalow, complete with winding ivy and two large gardens with wrought-iron patio furniture. New owners Betty Freeman and daughter Carrie Hensley have cleaned house, literally, removing the rows of dusty antiques but leaving well-worn floral couches and mismatched plaid chairs. The original walls were also left intact, providing dozens of nooks and crannies perfect for private conversation, which is why we love this place. It's cozy and quiet. There's no rush to order, and the pleasant staff won't complain if you take three hours to sip a cup of tea and talk. So turn off the cell phone, leave the laptop in the car and catch up with an old friend over a latte.
Believe it or not, there's more to Mill Avenue than the main drag you just have to know where to look. Half a block south, nestled into the Maple/Ash neighborhood, is one of our favorite Tempe joints, Three Roots Cafe. Hanging out in the tiny java house is like chillin' in your best friend's living room, and chances are, if you hang out often enough, the people there will become your best friends. This is the kind of place where the girl behind the counter lives around the corner and the regulars have been friends and neighbors for years. Kinda like Cheers, but with caffeine and vegan food instead of booze and peanuts. Don't let the insider atmosphere make you feel like an outsider. The staff couldn't be friendlier, and the overstuffed chairs and couches beg you to sit and enjoy a latte. Three Roots also regularly hosts community art and music events, proving there's hope for culture in Tempe yet.
This joint is fresh. The coffee beans are roasted on-site, producing an intense, rich flavor that makes chain-store lattes look (and taste) like instant. There's a large selection of flavors, including macadamia nut and chocolate raspberry, a popular mocha java and a dark roast that's ideal for espresso. Somehow The Village manages to put as much effort into its sandwich menu as it does its coffee. Our top pick is the to-die-for tuna salad, a creamy blend of albacore with roasted pistachios and mango chutney. Back to the bean. The secret to the velvety texture of the coffee is that it's brewed the Italian way, producing a stronger cup with a smoother flavor. Just ask the baristas and they'll explain the process to you faster than they can whip up a caramel macchiato.


Tammie Coe Cakes

We've loved Tammie Coe's oversize cookies and fruity tarts forever, it seems, but we're not here to talk sugar at the moment just good, old-fashioned artisan breads and steaming java. Finally, a storefront bakery in downtown Phoenix that we can really sink our teeth into. Tammie's husband and business partner, Michael, takes care of the pan component, preparing a variety of delicious loaves from scratch (you'll come back for the batard just for the crust alone). Topped with freshly roasted tomatoes and garlic, the focaccia also will send you into carbo-happy orbit. From what we hear, the Coes live in a cool loft directly over their little shop in the Roosevelt Arts District just west of Seventh Street. How they manage not to turn into walking blimps is beyond us.

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