Tuesday, April 14, 2015

@ Muggswigz in Downtown Canton

Hold the Coffee this week is featuring a nationally recognized coffee shop in a city with plenty of post-industrial and wild artistic flare.

Kelly is making her debut in my blog. awwwww...
I don't often have the time to drive an hour south to Downtown Canton, but when I do, It's like I've stepped into a whole new continent. The first few noticeable things about Canton versus any city I've visited is all of the small square blocks, the overwhelming presence of one-way streets, and the obnoxious need to type a "NW," "NE," "SW" or "SE" after every street name in my GPS. And when I thought I've seen it all, Canton decides to shake things up again and add something called reverse angle parking. It's not just on one street either. Its all over downtown Canton, and mostly along its one-way streets. When I first saw it, I thought I was driving in the wrong direction. On Saturday, March 14, I parked in one of them for the first time so I could visit Canton's most highlighted coffee shop, Muggswigz Coffee & Tea. (It's also the toughest name to spell I've seen among coffee shops.)

Canton has a high concentration of coffee shops for its size (in fact, it has more than Akron, a significantly bigger city), but saying Muggswigz is only the most highlighted shop in the city might be understating things. Muggswiz is a repeating finalist in Coffee Fest's America's Best Coffee House competition. And in 2014, USA Today listed the shop at 137 Walnut Ave. NE, as one of the nation's top 10 coffee shops. I remembered my eyes popping out as I read it being compared to coffee shops in Portland, Chicago and Seattle. I had been to Muggswigz once before in 2011 to watch my friend Katy perform a guitar and singing gig on-stage, and I remember being pretty impressed with the place, but I didn't think anything more of it than a neighborhood coffee shop.

It took a good seven minutes, but I successfully kept my
car between the two marked parking lines. I can't remember
the last time I reversed parked somewhere, much less
reverse-angle parked on a one-way street.
It's taken a year for me to make a second trip down there, but I did it last month, inviting Kent State friend and Canton Repository reporter Kelly Byer for a morning chit-chat and a tour of what is making Canton cool these days. (Kelly spent a couple years in Casper, Wyo., so I take her opinions about up-and-coming urban trends very seriously.)

Location: Like all rust belt cities, downtown Canton has suffered plenty of urban renewal and abandonment over recent decades, but it's turning that ill-fortune into the most exciting arts district I have ever seen. (I think that's saying a lot considering I am a big fan of Cleveland's Gordon Square and Waterloo arts districts.)

Muggswigz isn't per-se inside the Canton Arts District, but it's literately only a few minutes of a walk to it and all of its attractions. The arts district, which is centered around the Palace Theatre, includes some incredible pieces of public art like a life-size rhino made of rubber tires, a three-story building infested by a man-made octopus and a series of wood-panel murals giving the side of a parking garage more life. The district also includes six art galleries with regular hours and 21 studios.

This piece of public art is just unreal.
Kelly and I stopped by a few of them and the one that really blew my mind was a two-story warehouse-like gallery called Second April. It features many rooms filled with art and crafts from different local artists who don't have their own galleries. Very little art catches my attention, and that's why Second April and it's diversity of work has something to see (or buy) for everyone.

Art isn't the only thing making Downtown Canton attractive. It's also ahead of most cities its size on embracing bicycle culture, according to me.

Almost like its one-way streets, Downtown Canton is inundated with marked bike lanes. The street Muggswigz sits along, Walnut Avenue, has two bike lanes on each direction despite that car traffic is restricted to one way. The street it believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

Sadly, I forgot what Kelly ordered that Saturday. This is
what happens when I am behind on posts for a month.
Although Downtown Canton is making a comeback, the outskirt area Muggswigz was founded around is a bit depressive. When I visited, I couldn't help but wish the McDonalds across the street was built to the sidewalk, and the empty lot catty-corner to the coffee shop was infilled with apartments.

Food and Beverage: Muggwigz sticks to the pastry, tea and coffee menu that works best in a dense downtown-area like its own.

I got a little adventurous that Saturday morning and ordered a large spiced latte and a chocolate muffin with cream cheese filling. I hate destroying my diet, but I did drive a little more than an hour to a coffee shop, so I thought it was appropriate to indulge. Besides, the latte was DELISH.

After my downtown expedition with Kelly, I drove around Canton for a while, visiting the President McKinley Memorial, and then decided to return to Muggswigz to get some work done and drink some actual coffee. I got a large cup light roast like always, and it definitely had a distinctive taste. Was it better? I couldn't say because I just quite frankly don't care about the taste of coffee. It's all good as long as it is diluted with sweetener and milk.

What's not pictured here to the left of the frame is a big 
polished conference  table with big leather desk chairs. 
I guess Canton's hipsters need to hold their business meetings 
somewhere.
Space and Atmosphere: Modest. That's the best word to sum up my impression of Muggswigz's interior. It's not underwhelming or disappointing, it's just modest and different from the typical conventions of a coffee shop.

There's truthfully nothing wrong with Muggswigz space, but I expected by now with all of the success they've earned, the owners would've replaced their carpet flooring with hard tile or wood panel and updated their light fixtures to cast an ambiance that goes beyond a 1970s feel.

But like any good hipster would say: if its not broken, don't fix it.

Okay, that's not a hipster saying, but I think the idea is still conveyed. There are plenty of hipsters who order coffee and work at Muggswigz, and it's pretty impressive considering that all of the college campuses are on the outskirts of the city or in North Canton. (and another reason why the Canton Arts District's success is so impressive as well.)

Muggswigz does its roasting in the same building of its
Walnut Avenue store. I was meaning to buy a bag of grinds, 
but sadly forgot.
I know I have a bad record when it comes to discerning hipsters from typical coffee shop patrons, but I think I am right about Muggswigz. Consider this: when I asked the barista whether their Wi-Fi password used only lower case letters, she subtly smirked and casually responded "always."

I rest my case.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted13@gmail.com--or on Twitter at @SimonGH_Says.

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