Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hold The Coffee's Decision 2015: Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting in Ashtabula

Editor's note: I know I said Decision 2015 would be posted yesterday, but sadly my car got a flat tire that evening while covering a fire in Euclid. Too many things were happening that day so I decided to break my promise and wrap the post up today. I apologize to all of those who missed the Ohio State game last night because they were waiting for my post. With that said, my friends tell me LeBron James kept people waiting for his big decision to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers a year or so ago.

Editor's note 2: Those same friends tell me Lebron James made that decision just last summer, not a year or so ago. Shows how much I know about sports.

Picking a favorite coffee shop is like telling a group of friends I would feed them into a fire pit if it meant I and the other friends could stay warm. I say that because no matter who I pick and how I deliver the news, someone is going to feel rejected. But truth be told, of the 42 coffee shops featured in this blog, I've only met a handful shops that I wouldn't care to visit again. (And to respect those hard-working shop owners, I am not going to say which ones those are.) Every place I've visited and featured has been very cool and different.

Quite frankly, I am annoyed whenever I read a story or online slideshow declaring the best coffee shops. (Ironically enough, I am still compelled to click on them.) These days, neighborhood coffee shops have so many different premises and themes and target audiences, it's hard to judge which coffee shop tops others. And I am certainly not going to do that here.

What I am going to do, however, is tell which one is my favorite--something I've told people is nearly impossible because I don't have an exclusive commitment to any one coffee shop.

But there are qualities I do prefer in a coffee shop. Qualities like counter bar seating, plenty of natural lighting, a mixed-use building designed for dense pedestrian traffic, and plenty of exposed brick work.

To judge my favorite, I placed all 42 coffee shops in a spreadsheet and scored them in four categories: location, atmosphere, menu/offerings and service. Nine shops tied for the top scorer and from there, I began eliminating contenders based on personal preferences. Those include a lack of Sunday or weekend hours, a lack of sweetener options, missing chess board pieces on the communal chess board, or prices were beyond my income.

As of Jan. 13, I am still waiting for Zazzle.com
to mail this trophy-mug to me.
After a grueling hour of internal debating, I narrowed down my picks to Gypsy Beans Coffee and Baking in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District and Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting along Ashtabula's Bridge Street. I revere Gypsy Beans' dense, mixed-use location, its muffins, its massive Gothic wall art and it its window counter space. Nevertheless, by the end of Jan. 7, I concluded that if there was any coffee shop I would love to call my home today, it would be Harbor Perk. Ironically, it's 50 minutes away from where I live, but the two times I've been there, I've been thrown off my feet.

The coffee shop has an industrial flare that stands out, pride in its coffee roast blends, fun events like music nights, a vibrant staff and plenty of exposed brick. And most importantly, Harbor Perk plays a vital role in a city and neighborhood that's digging itself out of an economic downfall and turning it around into a regional destination for arts and recreation. An exceptional coffee shop plays a big role in how I perceive a neighborhood and that isn't any truer than Harbor Perk and Bridge Street.

Over the next couple of weeks I will present my first ever Hold The Coffee mug to the staff at Harbor Perk. (But I first need to wait for the mug to come in the mail. Poor timing on my part.)

Aside from Gypsy Beans, here are the honorable mentions that were pretty close into winning my heart: (They were also the top scorers mentioned above.)

Gathering Grounds in Downtown Wooster
Erie Island Coffee in Cleveland's East 4th Street
Stauf's in Columbus' German Village
Relax, It's Just Coffee in Downtown Mansfield
Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Cleveland's Little Italy
Loop in Cleveland's Tremont
The Root Cafe in Lakewood

Voters Choice Award: Sadly, I only got 21 votes when the poll closed at the end of Friday, ending in a four-way tie between Loop, Scribblers Coffee, Arabica Coffeehouse and one coffee shop I knew almost nothing about--Savor The Moment in Cleveland's Kamm's Corner neighborhood. (I am adding this place to my list of coffee shops to feature in 2015.)

I kind of figured this would happen. I don't do an incredible job marketing this blog. I am hoping to gather more votes in next year's Decision 2016 when I decide what is my newest favorite coffee shop,


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