This is likely going to be a super frenetic word slop because I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Korea and it’s really hard to focus on anything else. But I’ve been compiling some more downtown coffee joints to fake-review and I wanted to get this out there before I leave or else it will never happen and let me tell you, I struggled with some of these coffee shops! I DO NOT WANT MY PAIN TO BE IN VAIN.
I like to give myself missions when I’m on my daily walks. Sometimes I just need a purpose, whether it’s looking for my favorite homeless person, gagging at the river, exploring shady alleys. Sometimes it’ll be something like, “Take pictures of churches.” Anything to motivate me to get out of the office and walk, even on less luxurious-weathered days. Just a little pro-tip from me to you! Especially all you step-counters out there who need some motivation.
While it’s really tempting to just walk a block down the street and grab a latte at Crazy Mocha, I have been trying to see how many coffee joints are within a walkable distance for me, something close enough where I can get there, grab a quick coffee, and still make it back to work within an hour. So here are some recent options for anyone who works downtown Pittsburgh and maybe feels like ditching Starbucks for a day, god forbid.
- Fort Pitt Coffee
I’ve been here once before, after seeing people in the area walking around last summer with non-‘bucks coffee cups in their hands and I immediately opened up dreaded Yelp to see where the fuck they were coming from because lord knows I’m not going to JUST ASK SOMEONE. That’s what Chooch is for.
*[Side-note: the other night, I wanted to walk to the Payless that’s in the next town over from us. Henry and I had walked there the day before but one whole part of the front window had plywood over it and there was a sign taped to the door that said they were closed. I guess someone drove through the front of the store? I didn’t want to walk all the way there just to see they were still closed a day later, so I ACTUALLY LOOKED UP THE NUMBER AND CALLED. It’s a miracle, me using my phone to call someone other than Henry. I didn’t recognize the sound coming from the other end of the phone at first, and then I gradually realized that holy shit, it was a busy signal! It stayed busy for 30 minutes so I went upstairs and said to Chooch, “Hey Chooch, call Little Caesars (which is right next to Payless) and ask them, ‘Hey bro, how ’bout popping outside for a sec and letting me know if Payless is open?'” but Chooch said something like, “GOD NO I’M NOT DOING THAT!” So I took a chance and just walked there and lo and behold, it was open and I got a pair of shoes and one pair for free, too! I should have just went to Payless from the get-go instead of going through my Goldilocks shoe drama.]
(Oh, all of this was to say that sometimes Chooch says no when I ask him to ask someone about something.)
Anyway, I just got a plain ol’ latte and it was fine. The girl working wasn’t very memorable and then the owner came out to ring me up and he was pretty neutral as far as friendliness goes, which was funny to me because I follow this coffee place on Instagram and he acts like his coffee is God’s gift but he did nothing that day to assure that I’d be back again.
I mean, I probably will at some point, but if I was still doing Greetings From Erin’s Lunch Break, this would not make it into a postcard.
Although now that I see that iced raspberry chai on the menu….
2. Allegheny Coffee
This place is wonderful! I always thought it was too far out of reach for my hour-walks but I chanced it one day and still made it back to work with plenty of time to spare (I’m literally the only clock-watcher in that department. I’m sure I could go over my lunch break and no one would notice. BUT I WOULD NOTICE.). I’ve been there twice recently and the same girl was working both times – she was so friendly and made the whole experience more relaxed because if you’re like me, you get stressed to the max when trying to decide which particular coffee beverage you want at that particular moment.
Both times, I got seasonal specials: a King Cake Chai Latte, which had honey in it and it was DIVINE. I love chai lattes, it’s my go-to whenever I don’t feel like coffee. The second time, I was going to get that again because it was so wonderful, but then I saw a white chocolate strawberry latte and even though I rarely go for white chocolate or even mochas, the prospect of a strawberry latte was appealing to me because I don’t see them very often at my usual haunts. Oh, you guys, it was magic. It was like there was actual strawberry puree in there – it didn’t have that weird synthetic fruit taste that strawberry-flavored things sometimes carry. I had this Strawberry Shortcake doll when I was a kid, and if you squeezed her, she let out a puff of air that stunk of a laboratory strawberry, like a perfume for robots. Sometimes, strawberry-favored things taste like I’m eating that puff of fauxberry air.
The second time I went, the same girl was working and as I struggled to get my credit card out of my not-wallet, she was like, “OMG your wallet is so cute!” which was the perfect opportunity for me to tell her about how I had thought I lost it several days prior and how awkward it was to describe it to the receptionist at my work.
“I can’t believe you’re still telling people that story,” Henry sighed when I called him right after I left.
“She liked my story! She even laughed!” I yelled defensively. God, step off.
This place is definitely added to my list of “will return” coffee shops, which right now really only has Crazy Mocha on it because that place has such local flavor and rarely lets me down, no matter which location I go to, even though the coffee itself isn’t anything spectacular.
Oh, and there was a dog there one of the days I visited!
3. Colony Cafe
I have definitely mentioned this joint on here several times (and it’s one of the places I took Scott and Maya when they were visiting from Tennessee last October!) but it’s worth mentioning again because they saved my ass.
LET ME EXPLAIN.
It was one of the days I was working late shift, so I was out on my walk after 4pm. There was a new-ish place I wanted to try in the Strip call De Fer, and I even made sure to check their hours before heading in that direction. Their website said they’re open until 6 so I happily (yeah right, I’m sure I was on the phone with Henry and scowling about something) set off to Smallman Street and got super excited when I found it because I suck at finding things. AND THEN I SAW THE SIGN ON THE DOOR.
It said they closed at 3 that day, SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
Too many of these signs have been inconveniencing me lately!
I knew if I walked up the street, Prima was there.
THEY TOO WERE CLOSED. I did the whole “tug on the door and involuntarily jerk back” movement because I wasn’t expecting it to be locked since the lights were on and someone was inside!
Allegheny Coffee was also a stone’s throw away, so I headed over there.
The door was locked.
ET TU, ALLEGHENE?
Now I was beginning to feel a bit crazed. PEOPLE STILL NEED COFFEE AFTER 4PM!
PrestoGeorge was a block away and I saw a gathering old men inside so I breathed a sigh of relief, but my confident door handle-tugging was met with resistance BECAUSE IT WAS LOCKED TOO.
This was clearly some kind of sick joke.
I needed coffee so badly at this point that I was in tears. Do I have a problem? YES BUT IT’S MINE NOT YOURS SO BACK OFF.
I mean, thanks for your concern.
But thank god, the last cafe on my way back out of the Strip was the Colony Cafe and I knew they would be open. God bless you, Colony. I don’t even mind too much that your small latte cost me more than a medium at Crazy Mocha, because I want to believe that some of that money is going to the cats.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that Colony is also a cat cafe? I’ve been there about 10 times but have never had the chance to play with cats because they’re in a separate loft area and you have to make a reservation. :(
Anyway, I also don’t mind paying more for coffee at this place because it’s damn good coffee and I have never had a sour experience with any of the baristas. All good eggs up in there!
4. De Fer
Which brings me back to De Fer. I was excited to try this place because their website was really spirited, full of mission statements and employee introductions. I like that. I walked in and immediately blanched at the strong yuppie vibes, but I shook it off because I’m trying to not let social groups deter me from enjoying a good coffee, you know?
And on this particular day, I definitely wanted coffee. Maybe a pour over? I wasn’t sure yet, but figured I’d just peruse the menu and see what struck me.
WELL I’LL TELL YOU WHAT STRUCK ME.
The “how dare you interrupt me from whatever busy-work I was doing behind the counter” glare that I got from the older gentleman barista. Wow, sorry to interrupt your Father John Misty fan letter-writing hour. Honestly, he couldn’t have sighed any louder while he loomed over me and rudely stared at me while I was trying to look at the menu. Sorry for being a first-time at your uppity cafe, motherfucker, but not ALL places have the same offerings! I wanted to ask him what they specialize in, or if there was something he recommended because I was feeling spontaneous, but he did not give off even a WHIFF of it being OK to speak to him further than placing an order.
So, I went with a fucking latte. I think it was actually lavender which is no big deal anymore because more often than not, a cafe has the syrup for that. But when I started to ask if they had soy, he cut me off and said, with 0 personality, “We don’t have soy. We have oat or almond.”
OAT. OAT? Are you fucking kidding me? I hate this place so hard. Go fuck yourself in a wash basin of oat milk, you pretentious milk-elitist.
The latte was expensive and only OK. I will probably not be back unless someone can guarantee that one of the avuncular-looking folk featured on the website will be there to take my order and/or hold my hand while I try something new.
Fucking oat milk.
(I ordered my latte with the oat milk.)
(I hate myself.)
5. Leaf & Bean
OK! My last cafe for this edition of Erin Drinks Too Much Coffee is Leaf & Bean, also in the Strip. It’s quite a ways away from my work, but it was worth nearly getting hit by a car in an alley as I flail-ran to get there in enough time.
The guy working also had zero personality/interest in smiling, however, I didn’t really expect much from him from the moment I walked in. He was like, if Henry was forced to be a barista. That’s the best way I can describe it. But, unlike the oat milk dick, this guy didn’t make me feel super small or like I wasn’t fancy enough to be there.
Besides, the aesthetics of this place totally negated the lack of rapport from the barista. The shop doubles as a cigar bar and it was like walking into some dark Havana boys’ club.
Reasonable prices, pretty standard offerings, but the ambiance is what made this place great. I’d like to go back sometime when I’m not on my lunch break and just hang out for a bit, not smoking a cigar.
Well, guys, that’s my latest cafe review for you. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. This ain’t Yelp.