Friday, January 14, 2005

A casualty in the coffee wars

J. is in a panic. Blue Sky Coffee has closed, depriving her of access to her favorite "Dancing Goats" coffee. She has gone so far as to call corporate headquarters: "Okay, so is there somewhere in Atlanta I can drive to so I can get this?"

I think Blue Sky was doing pretty well until Starbucks played its usual trick of opening two doors down. Then there was a long protracted turf battle. In the final throes of it, Blue Sky turned itself into a cafe that served pretty good food. Unfortunately, the white tablecloths and waiters made all the coffee hounds uncomfortable, and that arrangement didn't last long.

I used to go to Blue Sky a lot, but that was before I worked at the bar. There's an Espresso Royale less than a block away from the bar that employs cute young musicians and sells local band CDs as incidentals, right up there on the counter along with European wafer cookies and artisanal ginger chews. Everyone thinks it's an indie coffee shop, but I know better because I used to go to an ER that was near the west bank of the University of Minnesota, which isn't exactly right around the corner from here. Anyhow, I get preferential treatment at the ER. In fact, lately I have even been getting free coffee, because when one of my favorite colleagues and his wife left Athens for Hollywood, the wife gave me the ER freebie cards that were in her purse.

When Espresso Royale is closed--which happens sometimes, such as winter break or slow weeknights--I have to admit that I have been in the habit of going to Starbucks. There's a girl who works there who's a bar regular, so my money is no good there. It really is something to get Christmas Blend for free, plus tip of course.

But I'm going to miss Blue Sky. It was the only one of the three downtown coffee shops that used to be nice to hang out in. It reminded me of a place in Iowa City called The Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company, which was primarily a coffee shop but also sold delicious vegetarian sandwiches and soups, and (predictably) excellent ice cream. My friend Kevin and I used to sit there for hours and pound iced coffees while we talked about life, school, whatever.

I'm told that the Great Mid closed a few years ago.