There's an indie coffee shop like this in every city in America
Nowadays, it seems like there's an indie coffee shop on every corner, and although the abundance of espresso drinks, public Wi-Fi, and flirty baristas who humor your pitiful attempts at conversation are undoubtedly a good thing, at some point all of these "third places" start to blur together.
That's not to say there aren't special, one-of-a-kind coffee shop snowflakes out there, but, too often your unique neighborhood coffee shop is following the same playbook as all the other guys. These are the elements you'll find in your indie shop. Read on and get ready to experience a sinking sense of caffeine-based deja vu.
Local art on the walls
The walls of an indie coffee shop are a monthly rotating canvas of black-and-white photographs from trips abroad and acrylic pop culture references priced much higher than the clientele can afford. Very occasionally, the art is incredible, in which cases it is doubly unaffordable. Usually, though, it's a B&W shot of an old door.
Oversized white Christmas lights draped across a patio
If the coffee shop is open after dark, this is definitely the form of illumination.
A water jug with either no glasses or no water
Usually, this is a subconscious attack on the hydration levels of laptop campers.
An overflowing bus bin
Plates caked with vinaigrette and spring mix, a lifetime's worth of coffee spoons, and the chewed straws of customers who don't understand the difference between a bus bin and a trash can are on full display.
A name that's either cute, obtuse, or very generic
Bonus points for use of ampersands or foreign words. Double bonus if the name refers obliquely to an underappreciated musician or piece of little-known local history. And negative points if it's "Daily Grind", "Elbow Room", or "Brewed Awakenings".
Let's hope there's a tip flirt.
A cream and sugar station that is either perfectly organized or in complete disarray
Much like the pastry case, this tiny corner table begins the morning in harmonious order. The types of milk are carefully arranged, spigots wiped clean, sweeteners carefully organized. By mid-day, this is a war zone of spilled milk, straw wrappers, and discarded stirring rods.
A coffee grinder that costs more than an automobile
Any coffee professional will tell you that grind consistency plays a huge part in coffee quality as they lovingly polish their towering phallus of a burr grinder.
A cork board tacked with roommate ads, DJ flyers, and coupons for very affordable painting classes
Those still clinging to the last vestiges of paper promotion will thumbtack layers upon layers of flyers onto a cork board that is always two sizes too small. These flyers are basically the only thing keeping print shops in business. Peel back the top layer to take a trip back in time to under-attended open mic nights, still-for-sale musical equipment, and overpriced sublets.
A very clever tip jar
Generosity comes to those who put photos from Forrest Gump on their tip jar with the caption "T.Hanks". One of a barista's most important moves is customizing their gratuity vessel to create that crucial, dollar-lubricating half-chuckle. There might be a joke scribbled in Sharpie, a collage of stickers to give off a more punk-rock vibe, or a bunch of toys glued to it to remind customers that they're probably just a bunch of kids that should be felt sorry for. However once a coffee shop reaches a certain level of polish, customization of the tip jar is looked down upon, and it is often replaced with a fancy vase or modern-looking coffee carafe.
A crumb-laden pastry case
In the early-morning hours of the coffee shop, before commuters have wiped the sleep from their eyes and pillaged every available croissant, the pastry case is a thing of beauty. Fresh scones, muffins, cookies, probably a vegan cupcake or two. But by mid-day this becomes an orphanage of crumbs, poppy seeds, and leftover muffins that are only purchased by freelance types who start to feel guilty once they hit hour four of surfing Facebook. Also worth mentioning: the mound of plastic-wrapped banana bread that seems to have never left.
A cute way to distinguish between bathroom genders
A disheveled stack of alt weeklies
There are coffee stains on the top few, which have been wisely picked past by the most recent readers. Nearby there is most likely an overflowing stack of far less popular local periodicals.
An extremely small, illogically placed placard with the Wi-Fi password
"What's the Wi-Fi password?" ranks near the top of questions baristas probably hate. Unfortunately this information is usually hidden on an index card that's wedged behind rows of coffee beans.
A passive aggressive sign to scare off laptop campers
Is it really necessary to declare a policy of customers having to purchase one item? Actually, yes. Yes it is.
A bike rack with one bike that has been there for weeks
One guy carefully chained his shiny fixed-gear bike via the proper front wheel-to rack-to frame technique, while some other guy has been using this as a garage for his crappy Huffy for weeks. The paint is chipping, there's a derelict U-lock horseshoed to one of the bars. He's probably spent those two weeks mooching free Wi-Fi and drinking water.
A carefully scripted chalkboard
Odds are that one barista in the crew has decent handwriting, and takes an inappropriate amount of pride in the skill with which they can write the words "turkey cranberry sandwich".
MacBook Pro power adapter trip wires
Tread lightly, lest you rip free the magnetized power source of a hard-working graphic designer.
A table that wobbles as soon as you put your coffee down
No amount of sugar packets can level this table out. Also, this table is more stained than the others. Go figure.
A buffet of sweet syrups
Only vanilla, chocolate, and caramel ever get used. The rest just gather dust and crystals on the spouts.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He works out of coffee shops all the time, and has spilled so very many drinks because of wobbly tables. Seriously, can we solve this problem? Follow him to more unheard complaints at @Dannosphere.