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Getting The Hell Out Of Butler: Cafe Reviews

Absolutely none of the cafes described look like this

Columbia has a wealth of libraries, abandoned classrooms, dorm rooms, and various corners in which to study for finals. But after the 5th day in a row wandering around Butler for 45 minutes trying to find a seat, even the most impressive library can get a little dull. Sometimes you need to practice your liberal-arts-hipster-cafe-typing abilities, and Bwog is here to help you. From the most crowded wobbly tables to the best atmospheric (read: dim) lighting, we’ve assembled a (somewhat) exhaustive catalog of all the cafes in the neighborhood and their relative merits for actually getting any work done. Our first installment rates two of the biggest names in hip cafe squatting, and an undercover star: Starbucks, Oren’s, and Aroma. 

Starbucks (110th street)
You may think all Starbucks (Starbuckses? Starbucksi?) are created equal, but don’t be so sure. The Starbucks at 110th is vastly different from its 114th counterpart—for one thing, there are almost always seats. For another, the internet actually works, and only about as slowly as the usual Columbia network. There’s something a little off about this establishment, though. A sense of gloom hangs over the place, and the fairly expansive room still manages to feel a bit claustrophobic. Perhaps the ceiling is slightly too low, or maybe it’s the extraordinarily low lighting. Whatever it is, one gets the sense that the bearded plaid-wearers on their Macbooks have been here for far, far too long, possibly forever, and will probably never leave. There is almost a post-apocalyptic feeling, which is only increased by the frequent intrusions of people off the street walking in to yell about such varied topics as the end of the world, that sale at Macy’s, and prostate cancer (yes, that actually happened). It’s a fine place to work on problem sets, or anything that’s closer to busywork than actual concentration. If you’re heading that direction anyway, you might as well stop in for a decent, overly sweetened cup of coffee. But a finals studying haven, it is not.


The awkward window bar at Oren’s is usually used for bag deposits while preparing a coffee sleeve or for an extended phone conversation before class. Once in a blue moon you glimpse an older gentleman with a paper espresso cup reading the Times or grading papers. The shocking truth is, that cramped little corner is one of the best spots to study on campus. Well, between 112th and 113th. That’s in a coffee shop. Ok, it’s not that conducive to *real* studying, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Oren’s is not meant for actual tasks like writing an essay or anything that might require concentration. There’s just not enough space for that between the older gentleman’s mounting espresso cups, the girl on line’s parka bumping into your face, and the fact that your knees have to be angled up to your chest to fit under the counter. Instead, the ideal study activities are those absentminded ones that work best with a coffee cup in hand and plenty of contemplative gazes out the window, such as “reading” a chapter of your Human Species textbook. Whatever you work on must be thought provoking enough, of course, that you have ample opportunity to count how many people you know a) in Oren’s itself and b) walking on the street a foot away from you. If you don’t have many acquaintances, try again with babies or dogs; you’ll reach the double digits in no time. And by then you’ll probably have to struggle your way out of those rickety chairs, stumble into five people on line, and dribble out the door while spilling coffee on that cute baby to make it to your final.

Take-away message: do not go to Oren’s if you need to learn, memorize, and internalize information, or complete any written work. Go to smell various ethnicities of coffee bean while feeling surrounded by people who look a lot busier than you are. If there’s a lull, you might be able to get a few pages of a pleasure book read. The real genius of this study spot, though, is that everyone else will wonder how the hell you’re getting any work done in there.


Aroma on 72nd and Broadway is, for all intents and purposes, perfect for camping. No, it is not Butler, and yes, it is kind of a real place with real people. But everything else is ideal. Let’s talk, for instance, the upstairs level. There are tables with comfortable chairs, tables with uncomfortable chairs, if you’re into that, and couches for if you’re really not into the uncomfortable chairs. And each is equipped with an outlet. I know. In this way Aroma is a little like a mullet, except the opposite: party in the front, work in the back. The first floor of the “Espresso Bar” is generally reserved for social gatherings that more often than not include tourists, Upper West Side moms and the strollers that come with them. There are no outlets on the first floor, and large communal tables instead of individual hives, but this is probably for the better because it means that when you come down for your fifth cup of coffee you get a little breath of life. Or, you don’t go down there, in which case you’re probably being more productive than you would be if you went down to Butler Café and ran into your entire floor, and Raj. And this is where we really get to it. The food. The food, the coffee, and the free Wifi. No, you don’t need to purchase anything to get on the Wifi, but Aroma makes food that is actually good and (usually) cooked in front of you, so that when you’re on your fifth trip to the bar you don’t feel that gross. And they give you chocolate with every purchase. Like, even when you buy a banana. So take the 1 down to 96th, and then take the 2 or the 3 to 72nd so you feel like you’re really “getting off campus,” and go do what you would do in Butler except in the real world. And with chocolate.

Future study spot via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Robert says:

    @Robert Those people who leave their crap on the best seats at butler and go away for five hours should be put in jail.

    1. Ita Vero. says:

      @Ita Vero. Lol. I have to agree with you–there should be a rule. Seriously, there are times where I’m the only one sitting on a table, and everyone else has their shit on their seats, while they’re away for more than an hour, not letting anyone else study in those spots. Inconsiderate, if I may say so.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Problem sets = busywork? Definitely written by someone who’s never done a real one before

    1. yea says:

      @yea I usually think of essay-writing/anything to do with humanities as busy work…

  • Hmm says:

    @Hmm Wonder who wrote the segment on Aroma. Reveal yourself!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Hmm… Since when is 72nd in the vicinity of Columbia!? Did I miss something..?

  • Anon says:

    @Anon Only 3 cafes??

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous “Our first installment”

  • Agree says:

    @Agree Aroma is fantastic

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