great good places: coffee shops provide neighborhoods with crucial 'third place'

Good coffee follows revitalization, says Phoenix Coffee Director Christopher Feran.

“It can be a sign of economic health within a region,” notes Feran, citing the continued growth of specialty coffee houses in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Ohio City and Gordon Square. “We’re a city with a large culinary tradition,” he continues. “I think the city can support the growth of coffee in the region.”

Lucky for well-caffeinated Clevelanders, there’s a coffee shop to match the personality of the patron. Some prefer a quiet nest in which to savor the latest New York Times best seller, others seek out the neighborhood town hall, while industrious freelancers might be in search of a co-working space where they can get some work done.

Regardless the preference, Cleveland’s maturing coffee scene has you covered.

(530 Euclid Ave., 216-479-0395)

New to the Cleveland coffee scene, Pour is housed in the newly re-energized 5th Street Arcades and features a clean, modern look punctuated with coffee equipment seemingly plucked from a mad scientist’s lab.

Owner Charlie Eisenstat boasts about the Counter Culture beans that he carries from Durham, North Carolina, one of the most respected specialty roasters in the country. Pour happens to be the only place to enjoy them in the Cleveland area. Playing to the coffee aficionado crowd, Eisenstat also is quick to highlight high-tech gizmos like the La Marzocco Strada EP espresso machine.

“This machine has the unique ability of pressure profiling, which gives the barista full control over the amount of pressure at any given time during the shot,” the owner explains. In layman’s terms, it gives the barista more control over what flavors to highlight or eliminate. And though it might take a few minutes more than a typical house cup, the results are well worth the wait.

Rising Star Coffee
(1455 W. 29th St., 216-273-3573)

This beautiful café, housed in a red brick firehouse in Ohio City’s newly minted Hingetown neighborhood, is a coffee lover’s dream. When the weather cooperates, Rising Star raises the garage door to let the breeze in and the freshly roasted coffee aromas out.

The personable baristas make Rising Star a special experience for both veteran and casual coffee drinkers alike. Regulars often stop by just to play catch-up with their favorites. “They break the stereotype of the angry barista,” says Rising Star’s John Johnson.

If you haven’t yet checked out one of Cleveland's finest coffee roasters, stop by and order a cappuccino. Johnson says it will help you “rediscover your love of coffee.”

Gypsy Beans & Bakery
(6425 Detroit Ave., 216-939-9009)

Gordon Square’s neighborhood coffeehouse specializes in the three Bs: bistro, beans and bakery.

Modeled after a traditional European café, Gypsy offers everything from internationally flavored coffee and light meals to a wide variety of pastries and desserts to pair with them. Most days you’ll find students and freelancers clacking away on laptops with notes spread across the roomy wooden tables. Others will take to the stool seats that offer views of busy Detroit Avenue and a place to read the morning paper or a book.

Gypsy's menu lists a number of “passport drinks” that highlight coffee blends ranging from Mexico to Moscow. We are particularly fond of the Costa Rican Tarrazu.

Erie Island Coffee Company
(2057 E. 4th St., 216-394-0093)

Erie is the neighborhood darling for Downtown’s growing resident population plus a steady stream of daily commuters, who fill it up between noon and 1 p.m. for their mid-day jolts. "Crushes," hot-pressed bagel paninis, are Erie Island staples. For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the bacon, egg and cheese Crush. At other times of the day, try the three cheese and tomato Crush.

As for the coffee, Erie sells a variety of blends that are available for consumption at the shop or to take home and grind yourself. For something lighter that you can drink throughout the day, go with the Craftsman Blend.

Deweys Coffee Café
(13201 Shaker Sq., 216-991-1101)

Owner Dewey Forward describes his charming Shaker Square café as the place “where all cultures come together.” People watch for an afternoon by the fireplace and you’ll see what he’s talking about. Clevelanders across the cultural and socioeconomic spectra gather at Deweys to discuss the hot (and not so hot)  topics of the day.

Naturally, you’ll also want to grab a cup of Deweys fair trade coffee while you decide between a fresh-baked pastry and a fresh-popped bag of popcorn from the Popcorn Factory, which shares space with the coffee shop.

(2366 W. 11th St., 216-621.3838)

Walking into Tremont’s Civilization, a pioneer in the local coffee scene, you feel as though you've crashed a community meeting. Neighbors will be discussing important civic issues with newspapers spread across tables. Police officers pop in for their morning hellos and steaming cups of coffee. Throughout the day you’ll likely stumble across casual business meetings, friendly get-togethers and speedy pitstops for fill-ups. During the warmer months, the roomy sidewalk patio becomes prime real estate.

In addition to excellent coffee, locally roasted by the owner's City Roast, Civilization has some of the best lunch sandwiches and wraps in town, all crafted with the meats and veggies of your choosing.

Phoenix Coffee
(2287 Lee Rd., 216-932-8227)

In Cleveland Heights, Phoenix pulled off the coffee version of the old David versus Goliath saga. “The Lee Road location is infamous in Phoenix lore for being the location that put Starbucks out of business,” boasts Feran, referring to the opening and subsequent closing of the Lee Road Starbucks.

Phoenix has been a fixture in the neighborhood since taking over the Miklos Coffee Bar in 2000. The café, Feran adds, was built using reclaimed materials, including the counters, which were harvested from an old John Carroll University science lab.

With a new “baby sister” around the corner on Coventry taking a little pressure of its older sibling, Phoenix on Lee will undergo a bit of a facelift over the next few months. Regulars will begin to notice cosmetic changes like new paint, lighting and other touches.

A.J. Rocco’s
(816 Huron Rd. E., 216-861-8358)

The Caxton Building might not stand out as one of Downtown’s premiere buildings like, say, the Terminal Tower or the Old Arcade. But it's a charmer all the same. What's more, it houses the loveable A.J. Rocco’s.

For 12 years, A.J. Rocco’s has been dispensing great java from its early 20th century address -- and, says owner Brendan Walton, business continues to grow each and every year. What distinguishes this establishment from the rest is the fact that it transforms into a bar in time for happy hour, with live music often entertaining guests late into the night.

Because of A.J. Rocco’s unique position as a café/bar, it should come as no surprise that it's home to the best Irish coffee around. Another house favorite is a pint of Guinness with a shot of espresso.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Joe Baur
Joe Baur

About the Author: Joe Baur

Joe Baur is an author, writer and filmmaker who has worked for a variety of local and national publications including Matador Network, Yahoo! Travel, National Geographic and BBC Travel. In addition to freelance writing, he is the author of Best Hikes Near Cleveland and director of numerous travelogues from across the globe. You'll currently find him working in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, because spending the first year of marriage where others vacation seemed like a good idea.