8.16.2005

Can No One Beat The Buck?

Each year, the Washington Post holds a reader's choice contest to rank the best of D.C. restaurants, nightlife and recreation. And each year, the winners in most categories read like the strip mall signs in Generic City, USA. And each year, people whine and complain about how chains shouldn't be allowed to win and how Maggiano's can possibly be considered the best Italian restaurant in the area.

Well, allow me to bring up the clichéd topic of Starbuck's bashing. The winners, which were announced Monday, include Starbuck's for best coffee shop. And for some reason, that one got to me more than any of the other generic winners. The mega-chain has a clear advantage, being located on every other street corner in the city, and voting is a matter of sheer numbers. In fact, a May DCist post reported on Epodunk.com data that showed that among small cities, Falls Church, Va., has the most Starbuck's per 10,000 people with 7.7.

But what was going through the minds of the people as they voted. "Well, the only coffee shop I can think of is Starbuck's." Really? In defense of the masses, Tryst did place second.

I'm no holier-than-thou coffee drinker. I struggle with my own inner turmoil over patronizing Starbuck's. When the slow-as-molasses Café Collage (now closed for permit violations) opened around the corner from me on T Street, I tried so hard to like it. The harrar Ethiopian coffee was great, but it took about 12 minutes for them to make a latte. There were times, I admit, that I tucked tail and sheepishly snuck over to the Starbuck's instead. I'm trying to give the new Mocha Hut on 13th a chance; they have an admirable sense of community with local art, poetry readings and jazz nights. But it still sometimes takes an unreasonable amount of time to make a drink. I'm a fan of Sparky's on 14th and Tryst, but sometimes I'm weak and Starbuck's is omnipresent.

What's your take? Starbuck's: the root of all evil or simply standardized, efficiently made coffee? And where's your favorite (independent for the sake of this post) coffee shop? If you can't think of one, check out the Starbuck's Delocator, and then come back.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am also trying to love Mocha Hut. But alas, their coffee tastes like ass and their love of crushed ice confounds me. My favorite place on U street would have to be the Love Cafe. Now, if only people who finish their food & stubbornly continue to occupy the too-scarce seating would make room for new customers, who must stand, coffee in hand, helplessly waiting for someone to exercise a measure of consideration...

Anonymous said...

What's so bad about Starbucks? They do vary a bit, but some of them really do have a neighborhood feel. Before they were omnipresent, what options did we have in American cities other than bars and restaurants? I'm just glad there's a place to sit down, have a cup of coffee and read a book.

j o h n said...

Nothing, I repeat, nothing beats a good Dunkin Donuts. Still the best coffee hands down. Just chalk it up to my New England blue collar roots.

You'll probably find better coffe joints in the burbs than the district, due to rent I assume. Places like Common Ground (or whatever its called), Greenberry, and the two places in College Park & Silver Spring (who's name escape me now - I know I know, lame) all have had pretty great reactions & reviews.

Jason said...

I'll admit my enjoyment of Dunkin' Donuts here in New Hampshire myself. It's hard to beat their regular coffee at any café around.

However, I have to echo what the anonymous poster wrote above about having a communal place to share coffee and read a book. Dunkin' Donuts just doesn't have this quality for me. What about you all? I always feel like I'm inside a fast food restaurant and not a café where I can lounge with my friends.

laurie said...

Starbucks is okay. Some are better than others for hanging out.

Mayorga Coffee Roasters is nice. They're in Silver Spring and King Farm in Rockville (where I have trouble believing the rent would be lower than the city, as much as rent is there!). They also have a roastery and warehouse in Rockville.

I go to the Borders cafe sometimes if I want to meet a friend or do some work, but the chairs at the White Flint store are dreadfully uncomfortable (I used to work there...)

I wish we had more coffeehouses. Planet X in College Park was brilliant when I was a student there. I had the greatest first date of my life there. ; ) But I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know if it was ever rebuilt. I don't think it was. There's another one there now and I can't remember the name of it either. Such a terrible ex-Terp!

Have to agree on the Dunkin Donuts issue.

Father Martin Fox said...

What's the problem?

Is it politics? I don't like Starbucks' leftie politics either, but it's pretty subtle, not in-your-face like Ben & Jerry's...

Is it because Starbucks is "corporate"? Egad! But wait--didn't Starbucks start small? And it grew--how?

Gee--I think they provided a really good cup of coffee, that its customers like so much, they pay a high price, and keep coming back...

Not to mention, having really well trained employees, who handle the strangest special orders with aplumb ("half decaf, half soy, half half-and-half cinnamon-sprinkle cappucino coming up!)...

And having about as nice an atmosphere as you could want...

And, being everywhere, so you can find them if you're travelling--oh, and the product is reliably good...and lots of variety...

Oh, how evil, how nefarious can they be???

Father Martin Fox said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention...

You can buy a newspaper there, both the local paper, and usually the New York Times (if that's your orientation);

You can get really good baked goods with your coffee...

You can get a very good variety of very good coffee, beans or ground, regular or unleaded, light roast to dark-"bold"...

You have wireless access--which is awesome, again, if you're travelling...

If you're lucky, you'll get one of the cushy arm-chairs..and you can hang around for a long time...

The music is great--because it seems to damp down the people-noise--so it's actually a very calming environment...

Yeah, they all look the same--but the look is soothing--and every Starbucks I've been in -- from Washington D.C. to Seoul, Korea -- was clean and well-run...

Oh, and often a Starbucks is squeezed into a tiny space--yet it works!

And you can always find everything, from the counter where you get your sugar, or chocolate sprinkles, or whatever, to where the bathroom is (really important after a Venti)...

I mean--let's face it--this is a really WELL-RUN company. With seemingly happy employees, happy customers...this is bad???

Amanda said...

All the reasons you mention are probably exactly why Starbuck's won the reader's choice. I agree with you, and have yet to find another spot with comparable efficiency. I'm just a sucker for the mom n pops, and think diversity in choice is healthy for a city. It's hard to compete with Starbuck's but it clearly got that way by them offering a good product. And that's the reality of business. My bleeding heart just can't take it... ; )

Thanks for all of your thoughts!

Joe said...

I'm not sure if you saw the recent Zogby poll that showed Republicans naming Dunkin' Donuts as "best coffee" by a 2-to-1 margin, while Democrats were equally partisan in favor of Starbucks.

Maybe it's the Leftist tilt among DC residents that has Starbucks topping the area's list of faves year after year :)

Amanda said...

How very interesting. Wonder what the psychological analysis of that would reveal...

Deep Furrows said...

Starbucks is fine for the candy coffee, but their "au savage" is second rate. McDonalds coffee (9 times out of ten) is quite decent.

Anonymous said...

what, no votes for M.E.Swings?

Kearns said...

Caribou has better drip...

jjd said...

i had an excellent latte at l'enfant recently. i wish jolt n' bolt was better. great location, and i would love to support it more...

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Anonymous said...

Murky Coffee, I love. It's on the Hill and super convenient to the Eastern Market Metro. I almost don't want to sing its praises because I like to keep things I like secret. Free internet access, free drip refills, nice staff in a nice neighborhood make me like the place. GREAT coffee makes me love it. The pastries are so good they make me want to smack my mama.

As for Starbucks? Like McDonalds, it's reliable and fast. However, I'd rather eat steak every day than a lousy assembly line burger.

nuff said.