Frenzy Stamper
If you're hot for grommet tools and ink pads, or if hearing names like Our Lady of Rubber, Staampotique Originals and Stampington & Co. gets you excited, you're definitely a Frenzy Stamper. This tiny shop is packed with stamps in every conceivable pattern and size, as well as enough glitter and ink to fill every sheet of fancy paper in the place. We have no idea what a grommet tool is — and, frankly, no desire to learn — and we still managed to fill our arms with various hues of hot pink stamp pads, teeny paper flowers and several shades of glitter. We don't know what we'll do with any of it (probably hoard it, like we do all our other unused craft supplies), but it's good to know that Frenzy Stamper has plenty of classes to instruct us in the ways of the stamp world, if ever we're so inclined.
Yes, we know that most of you still work 9-to-5-type jobs, punching in, punching out (and wanting to punch the supervisor about half the time!). Lucky us, we don't. That's not to say, though, that this journalism stuff takes anything less than, say, 60 hours (okay, boss, so it's only 50) in an average week. Some of us still tromp down to the office every weekday and stare endlessly at our computers with the intensity of Talmudic scholars.

Others prefer an off-the-beaten-path locale where we can get a little work done in our own weird way. In this case, we mean setting up shop (and laptop) in a corner of a popular north Phoenix restaurant that's one part coffee shop, one part health cafe — observing the world of pretty people in spandex, business types in suits, young mothers with their little ones, and the occasional big-time athlete hanging out.

The friendly folks who work the spacious room at Soma don't give a hoot if you take up space for hours on end, sipping on an iced tea as you "craft" another masterpiece at the keyboard (or just try to get the damn thing done). In fact, Soma's staffers embrace the restaurant's regulars, both figuratively and (if you're lucky) literally. And here's another thing we've seen for ourselves: We'd bet as many deals of all kinds get brokered at this eatery as anywhere around.

Dutch Bros. Coffee
We know, we know. The coffee thing is over-priced, over-hyped and over-caffeinated. Who really needs four shots of espresso a day? Um, we do. Which is why we were curious, on a recent Saturday morning, about a big sign in front of a tiny drive-thru just off the Arizona State University campus. The sign read, "FREE COFFEE."

We burned rubber, getting in line. And it was there we learned all about Dutch Bros. Coffee, a chain of coffee shops based in the Pacific Northwest. Sound familiar? Not quite — these folks are from Oregon (well, they're actually Dutch, but they started the company in a tiny town called Grants Pass, Oregon) and they own almost a hundred shops, rather than almost a gazillion. The coffee was cheaper than the other guy's (even on a day when you have to pay) and tasted great, with specialty flavors like Almond Joy and Milky Way. We even loved the cute cups, decorated with a windmill and a bunch of tulips.

The D.B.'s motto is "All roads lead to Dutch Bros." Not quite — at least, not yet, here in Arizona. But if you're in Tempe, we recommend you stop by; syrups and whipped cream are always free, and even the tall, er, we mean small drink comes with an automatic double shot. Truth be told, it's more of a drive-thru than a house, but such is the way of our coffee culture these days.

A Shot of Java
Lisa Dowd's diminutive espresso parlor isn't so much a coffee house as it is a coffee cottage, snugly located inside a cozy building behind Pizza Old Roma in downtown Glendale. But while it may not be as roomy as your corner Starbucks, A Shot of Java offers a far tastier cup of joe, served up by counter help that are (gasp) actually friendly, which is surprising since the owner is a former New Yorker. She and her bevy of baristas will also gladly provide you with such caffeinated potions as their signature Cocamochanut Frappe, as well as ice-cold bottles of Jones Soda, crunchy biscotti, decadent sweet rolls, and even chocolate-covered coffee beans (in case you weren't awake enough). Once your peepers have been pried open by high-octane concoctions, fill them with some of the board games and books available, or perhaps crack open your laptop and surf the Web via free Wi-Fi. Dowd also brings in local musicians to perform every week, including New Orleans-style jazz group The Hurricajuns and piano balladeer Jonathan Standifird. We guess size doesn't matter after all.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, NORTH PHOENIX

Unlimited Coffee

Unlimited Coffee
At 7 in the freaking morning, we want comfort. We want breakfast. The last thing we want is to walk into a new place and meet new people, so first impressions are even more impressive than usual. Within our first five minutes in this cozy cafe, the barista helped us choose a chocolate-chip scone that he swore was "sex on a plate," reassured us about the kitten we'd dropped off to get spayed, upsized our mango smoothie because he'd made too much, became our new BFF, and gave the next customer the rest of the excess smoothie as a sample. They make their own gelato here, and it's named after a cat.

They have a piano. Each employee has a business card with e-mail and a phone number. Yeah, they make coffee, too, and you'll appreciate that after you've basically moved in. Apparently, "unlimited" means there's nothing they can't do.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, CENTRAL PHOENIX

Willow House

Willow House has been around so long, it arrived before the coffee chains. The good folks of Phoenix continue to support the charming ol' green-roofed home with red trim originally constructed in the early 1900s. On any given eve, the joint is crowded with folks surfing the 'Net on complimentary Wi-Fi, enjoying acoustic singer/songwriter performances during open mic Mondays, or taking in Djentrification's sweet eclectic spins on Wednesday nights. Grub on veggie- and vegan-friendly eats and choose from a variety of coffee drinks and more than 10 David Rio organic teas. It's the kind of place that you remember stumbling upon on one of your bare-bones backpacking trips overseas, since the joint is filled with fliers for local shows, outdoor tables for prime people watching, a little bit of hippie grit, and inner-city charm.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, DOWNTOWN PHOENIX

Royal Coffee Bar

Royal Coffee Bar
With the real deal of a downtown Phoenix seemingly on the horizon, we've been longing (cups in hand) for a friendly java joint. Gloriously, we recently happened onto one just south of Sheriff Joe's empty old jail down on Jackson Street, and have found ourselves returning again and again. Royal is a small operation — a half-dozen chairs, a few cozy, black leather couches, and a couple of tables inside (there's also outdoor seating) on the ground floor of a newly opened apartment complex that seems populated with folks who don't plan on staying there long. An eclectic music mix plays all day. There's free Wi-Fi, certainly another plus. Adorned with colorful, abstract paintings and other locally made art, Royal is a welcoming place, mostly because of co-owner (with her brother) Gwen McNeil, a sassy, smart lady with a long memory for the off-the-wall requests of her many regulars. Gwen wears her feelings on her rolled-up sleeves, and the very idea of having to make a decaffeinated beverage with fat-free milk and a shot of sugar-free vanilla for the odd customer inevitably comes with an extended roll of her large, DeGrazia-like eyes and sad shake of the head. But even those results of her labors are delicious.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

Into the Bean

We've been big fans of this small coffee house, located across the street from Mesa Community College, since owner Luis Prado opened his doors in 2004. We dig the place's weird, shabby-chic vibe (including a multitude of Christmas lights and bizarre paintings from local artists) its eclectic baristas, as well as the constant stream of musicians who perform here throughout the week (like outrageous Christian troubadour Paisley Yankolovich and soulful guitarist Paul Raia). But the biggest draw has to be the Bean's line of imaginative signature drinks, like the decadent "Mocha Dong" (a frozen concoction of Hostess Ding-Dongs, chocolate sauce, coffee, caramel, and ice) or the "Rich Wake-Up Call," which consists of a mixture of Red Bull and espresso. We hear the latter is the kinda thing you should down before driving to another state or polishing off War and Peace in one sitting.
Gold Bar? What's that? Oh, yeah, it was the beloved coffee shop that moved out of this former bank building a few years ago. We almost forgot — not because Gold Bar wasn't a great place for hanging out (still is — its new location is down the road at 3141 South McClintock Drive) but because Xtreme Bean was such a fine replacement.

We love the not-too-sweet iced mochas, the perky iced teas and the cappuccinos, which contain the proper ratio of milk foam to espresso. Food offerings are minimal, but we appreciate the more healthful choices they do, like the breakfast of nuts and strawberries.

The ambiance is as good as it gets for a Valley coffee shop. There's free wireless Internet access and plenty of electrical outlets. The place is airy with high ceilings, and natural light falls everywhere but the old bank vault, which is an excellent place to plug in a laptop and get to work. The main area is similar to a nice hotel lobby, and the shop is often crowded, even on weekdays, with groups of people engaged in brainstorming and solitary computer users working on their next unpublishable novel. If Xtreme Bean had beds and cable TV, we'd move in.

Orange Table
Jamie Peachey
The Orange Table has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a cramped coffee shop across the plaza at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, but it's remained true to itself as far as the quality of the coffee it serves. If you order a latte or a cappuccino, you won't get overpriced dishwater, nor will you get a wee Scottsdale portion. The OT's French press, which serves two, is strong and dark, with the faintest hint of spice (cinnamon, maybe?), but don't get the wrong idea — it's just enough warmth to bring out the depth of the robust brew. No "flavored" coffees here, thank you; they take their java the same way they take food and beer: seriously. And while the quality of the art on the walls is, um, variable, it's not the walls you'll be looking at anyway. It's the people — at least when you can take your nose out of that damn fine cup of coffee long enough to look around.

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