This week, Hold The Coffee highlights my long-awaited visit to one of Northeast Ohio's coolest college towns and one of its coffee shops.
Matt and Andrew are pictured here waiting for me to
walk inside with them.
I've always had a strong attraction to college towns--partly because their coffee shops have expansive weekend hours, terrific public art, and thoughtful community spaces. Evidently the coffee shops are so nice that patrons typically need to fight for a table or seat--which is just what happened when my boyfriend / blog editor Matt, a team of friends and I visited Oberlin--home to Oberlin College
--Sunday, Feb. 15, to check out Slow Train Cafe.
I've often told myself that the best time to visit college towns is during the summer, and for two reasons: the college campus and its thousands of dollars worth of landscaping are at its prime, and the student population impeding upon that beauty is at its lowest.
Friends and colleagues, Amy Popik
and Andrew Cass
, have discussed making the hour-long trip to Oberlin, but our schedules have presented many restrictions. Either one of us is working a weekend shift, I am in Mount Vernon for the weekend hanging out with Matt or Amy is working her second job. With all of that in mind, we agreed Sunday, Feb. 15, would have to work. Amy's lifelong friend, Oberlin graduate and Akron's new urbanist poster child, Hannah Scott, joined us in our adventure. (She's also the daughter of our photo editor, Duncan Scott. The woman clearly wears many, many hats.)
Pictured here is Amy, Hannah and Matt ordering their coffees
to go. Well actually, Hannah ordered a
Chai Latte to go, not a coffee.
Like so many college towns, Downtown Oberlin doesn't just have one independent coffee shop, it has two: The Local Coffee & Tea
and The Slow Train Cafe
. (It actually has three when we consider Treehuggers Cafe in Oberlin.
) It took me a few days to decide which coffee shop to feature in my first visit to Oberlin. I chose Slow Train mostly because it doesn't close until 11 p.m. on Sundays and The Local closes at 5 p.m. (Do not fear. I will gladly make another trip to Oberlin sometime to feature The Local.)
I expected a busy crowd, but I wasn't expecting standing-room-only busy when we all arrived at Slow Train a little past 1 p.m., that Sunday. I mean, even if it was just Matt and I, there still wouldn't have been anywhere to sit.
A good three-fourths of the patrons I saw were students on laptops presumably
working on school projects. As frustrating as the situation was, it did remind me of the times when I was a Kent State University student looking for somewhere to camp out to work hours on a weekend. I still camp out, but I have since realized it's not worth keeping your fort up at a table if it means you're hindering someone else's coffee shop experience.
You couldn't throw a rock without hitting a humanities' major.
I wouldn't recommend doing so.
Not having much of a choice, my friends, Matt and I ordered coffees to go--
an unheard of thing for me to do on a weekend. We spent a few hours touring around downtown Oberlin, checking if The Local was equally packed--it was, and eating lunch at Agave Burrito Bar
. We were also tallying how many college friends Hannah can run into on one day. It was too many to count.
My friends, Matt and I visited Slow Train again near the end of our adventure, and, to no surprise, it was still busy. However this time, there was one small table open with a handful of chairs in the middle of the room. We quickly hooked our jackets around the chairs and ordered Amy and Hannah to stand guard while Andrew, Matt and I ordered coffee and cookies at the counter. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless, I've never felt so much relief and gratification as I did that day winning a table at a coffee shop.
Obviously, a big part of the shop's traffic is its close proximity to the academic halls and other such campus things.
Oberlin College's campus is weaved into the city's downtown more than almost any college town I've visited. Located at 55 W College St., Slow Train is a stone-throw away from its nearest campus building.
Those cookies are going to be my eventual cause of
Type II Diabetes. I just know it.
What's most important about Slow Train's thriving location is that it's part of a remarkable story of three college graduates who were focused on building environmentally and socially sustainable mixed-use housing on a former Buick dealership lot. (Steven Litt's 2010 Cleveland.com story
on the project is a terrific read.) It would be amazing if more of these projects were replicated in other cities like Painesville, Ashland, and Youngstown.
Food and Beverage:
Like a few other coffee shops I've visited, Slow Train blurs the line a bit between coffee shop and bar--something Matt and I completely welcome. The shop serves wine, beer and cocktails, but sadly their alcohol is off limits on Sunday because of liquor license restrictions. (Lack of expansive liquor licenses is a common problem in Ohio college towns, however, Andrew reminds me often it is an even worse situation in his home state of Pennsylvania and his alma mater's town, State College, Pa.)
Slow Train's milk, coffee and pastries are provided by a handful of Cleveland-area vendors. That's good because Matt, Andrew and I need to find out where we can pick up more of the delicious cookies we ate--especially the salted chocolate chip ones. Andrew was compelled in ordering one during each of our two visits.
This is me shooting more photos from the fort we secured
in our second visit to Slow Train.
I am disqualifying everything I ordered in the first visit because I couldn't take nice photos of it. On our second visit, however, Matt and I ordered a cranberry-oatmeal cookie, a salted chocolate-chip cookie and two eight-ounce cups of coffee for $6 and change. I got a Columbian roast and he got a Brazilian roast. Don't ask me what the difference was.
Space and Atmosphere:
Another big reason why I chose Slow Train to feature before visiting Oberlin is because the coffee shop had a band scheduled to play on their small stage that Sunday evening. I love live music at coffee shops and Slow Train's event looked like it would be a pretty fun in the off chance that everyone and I stayed in Oberlin past 7 p.m. (We obviously didn't. Like the post-college graduates we are, we called it a night by 5 p.m.)
Slow Train still had some neat music playing on its pretty expansive speaker system. The music ranged from The Eagles to Kanye West, and from Timbaland to Justin Timberlake.
I loved the shop's mixture of earthy colored walls, concrete flooring, wooden furniture and mounted photos and art. And just like any progressive college town, the shop's two single-occupancy restrooms are gender neutral.
The experience reminded me so much of my glorious time as a college student, and as of writing this blog post March 3, I noticed the coffee shop's event page
has a trivia game and wine night scheduled for later in the day. They do it every Tuesday night.
... I think graduate school might be calling me. What's another $40,000 of college debt going to do to me anyway?
Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.
Labels: college town, downtown, Hold the Coffee, independent coffee shops, Kent State University, Oberlin, Oberlin College, simon husted, Slow Train Cafe, The Local Coffee and Tea