It may be the weekend, but finals are still here, and Butler is still crowded. For today’s cafe reviews, we give you walkable options: one of which is calm, one of which is not, and one of which is comfortable for Fairy People. Guess which is which.
Apparently four blocks makes all the difference. While the Starbucks on 110th boasts some remarkably short lines, the 114th Starbucks routinely has lines of caffeine-cravers snaking to the door. Combine finals week with the natural laziness of Columbia students and some deliciously complicated holiday-themed drinks (skinny gingerbread brulee mocha with a double espresso shot anyone?) and you get a Starbucks packed to the gills with stressed-out coffee addicts. With a lot of people comes a lot of conversation, keeping the noise level at a dull roar and making it hard to concentrate even on one’s own order. But, hey, what are headphones for, right?
Although there are a few tables to study at, the chances of you snagging one during these desperate times are remarkably low. If it makes you feel better, though, we’re not entirely sure you would want to work at one of these tables in the first place. Too small for anything but a laptop or a single notebook, the Starbucks tables don’t have space for any work that requires “spreading out.” Even though the 114th Starbucks is well-located for almost any Columbia students, the small tables, the noise level, and the crowds make it a bad choice as a potential study spot.
Brownies is not an “either/or” sort of place. It’s a “both/and” sort of place, which makes sense, because of all the grad students and liberal arts kids who hang out there. It’s underground, but full of natural light. There are Marxists going on about the evils of capitalism, but they’re munching on $9 wraps made by wage-workers. There are wet-behind-the-ears first-years reading the Western canon, and they’re elbow-to-elbow with big-wig interdisciplinary-theory-type professors.
Brownies is a cheery place, and through December there are poinsettias on the room-long table. It feels kind of urban to be underground, like we’re squeezing every last usable inch out of the Morningside campus (we are). You will probably see a TA of yours conducting office hours with a classmate of yours (since they don’t have a pot to piss in, let alone an office). Most of the conversations around you aren’t obnoxious, and they make for nice white noise.
But people don’t just go to Brownies to feel cool, I think, so about the food: The wraps are excellent, if pricy. Get the fried-eggplant wrap. Get it. The Italian cold-cut is a little more savory. Both are sustaining. The coffee is hot, strong, and cheap ($1 for a small; $1.25 for a large). Pastries are decent. And they have salads, if you eat green things.
Brownies is a decent place to fuel up on a cup of cheap, strong coffee and set down for a few hours. (Make sure to wear your cool clothes.) When you leave, you’ll find yourself feeling self-satisfied, whether you did work or not.
The walk to Amrita is just far enough to feel like you’ve shook campus off of you, without the blistering cold pervading your bones too deeply. The atmosphere at this no-frills spot is quiet and comfortable: you get the sense that many of the people there are regulars, and that guy at the bar with the red wine at 2 pm shouting at the football game has definitely been coming here every day for the past decade. The Wi-Fi password comes at the price of a cup of coffee that you can nurse for hours at one of the rickety tables along the edge of the room. Perhaps the one downside is that the sole outlet is at the corner of the cafe, which makes for a steady turnover rate unless you’ve charged up in advance. The giant gingerbread cookie can be eaten over the course of 45 minutes if ratioed correctly, and the tables are only slightly rickety, with many of them able to accommodate both a laptop and a notebook. There’s a subtly European vibe (read: red wine at 2 pm) that allows for a nice mix of coffee and booze, no matter the hour or the assignment. Cafe Amrita seems to silently assure you that you can get your studyand tipsy on at the same time, if you should so desire.
With an interview about global health being conducted to your right and a mom attempting to feed her kid guacamole to your left, Cafe Amrita lets you blend in and maybe, for a few hours, not be the most important and stressed out person in the world. All the real people with their real lives going on make for more relaxed studying: and if you still feel anxious, look up at the bar. There will definitely be drunk old European guys talking about the good old days when everyone could smoke weed everywhere.
A sunnier Starbucks via Wikimedia