Near where I live, there is a house that has been zoned for commercial use, and within it there have been a number of assorted coffee shops. A few years back, it was called ‘The Blue Dog’. We went there sometimes as one of the girls who worked there had a thing for a member of our party, and as such slathered extra cream cheese on his bagels and drew island-sunset scenes in crayon on the wax paper wrapped round his pastries. The Blue Dog went under, and was replaced by ‘Curio Confections’, another café whose gimmick was that the menu regularly changed and you were supposed to check their website to see what they were serving that day– except the website was rarely updated. They also sold marshmallows, an item for which I’ve never noticed an especially high demand in any of the cafés I’ve frequented.
In any case, they went under as well, and the newest contestant for a viable business in that space is yet another café, this one called ‘Verbena’. I was not interested in going there, but my associate, young Brimbie, raved about the place, claiming that they gave you a free croissant with your coffee (or vice-versa, I don’t recall) and that the food was delicious. I inspected one of the croissants that Brimbie had, however, and found it to be filled with ketchup or some other condiment, and immediately decided I had no interest in such outlandish foodstuffs.
Yesterday, however, on a walk past Café Verbena, on one of those rare Seattle days in May when it’s above 45 degrees, my room-mate asked me: ‘Why don’t you ever go to Verbena?’- and so I said Oh, why not.
Upon entering the place, you are greeted with a bombastic salutation from a frat boy behind the counter. The greeting is obviously packaged and quite phony, for I’d never set foot in there before and was hailed thusly: “Hey, how you BEEN?! Good MORning! Nice to SEE YOU! How’s it been goin’!” – and such nonsense, as though I were an old friend or dear family member:
[W]hat you are really buying is the “coffee ethic”… a place where you yourself can participate in communal life… an ersatz community…
(Slavoj Žižek, First as tragedy…, 2009, pp. 53-54)
I was not taken in by this showman, but online reviews of the place mention the “ridiculously friendly” staff, apparently much appreciated by the café’s demographic.
I had a small coffee ($1.50). It was served in some sort of ‘disposable’ cup (I couldn’t tell if it was paper, stryofoam, or what). There were no spoons present, but there were plastic stirring-things. If you feel that there is not enough plastic garbage in our landfills, this place is certainly for you. There was no milk, soy milk, cream, half and half, or any other sort of liquid that is popularly mixed with coffee. The coffee was ‘serve yourself’ from two coffee dispensers, in the style of 7-11 or some such convenience store. The two frat boys on duty talked amongst themselves about upcoming parties. One of the fellows turned to me and with a cocky grin told me “Here’s a free sample for you, one of our delicious scones”- it was a crumbly square on a plate, and as I went to inspect it, he bellowed “This is a BACON scone right here”. What! Having spent many a year in the U.K., I am well-accustomed to scones, and find that they may be plain, or filled with blackcurrants or ‘sultanas’, which is how the British refer to raisins. However, I have most certainly never been offered a scone with chopped-up pig parts in it until today. No thanks!
The atmosphere was disturbing. There were paintings on the wall that were all more or less the same: beach sunsets and rocky shores. A sign read ‘Commissions welcome’. The music played in here was strictly Top 40, with a generous lashing of Dave Matthews. No thanks!
The clientele seemed to be fellow frat boys, University of Washington undergrads, some people dressed up in black baggy cloaks and capes, and a girl who was telling her friend about a festival of druids she attended. I sat and tried to read, but the music bothered me, the customers bothered me, and for whatever reason, there was a fan on, although the temperature was 45 degrees (i.e., 7c). I had to keep my coat and scarf on.
There was a line of youngsters ordering things. They seemed to take about fifteen minutes to order, and referred to the coffee they wanted as “doing”: “I’m”, one girl said, “going to do a small spiced latte,” or some such garbage. They also gleefully ordered items off the menu, which appeared to be hot dogs and other such meaty fare.
If I wanted to drink serve-yourself coffee from a styrofoam cup while shivering in a coat and scarf, surrounded by hot dogs and listening to Top 40 radio, I could go to any gas station. No need to waste my time here.
VERDICT: I won’t be returning!