June 9, 2004

Madison coffeehouses.

The WSJ--Wisconsin State Journal--has a nice article on Madison cafés, specifically the nine cafés in the area between Library Mall (the campus end of State Street) and the state capitol building (the other end of State Street). Well, really just the seven that aren't Starbucks, because Starbucks has a policy against media interviews not pursued through the proper corporate channels. That provided a convenient excuse to the WSJ to leave them out, which they probably wanted to do anyway.

The reviews of the seven cafés betray a Madison sensibility: they tell you whether the coffee is "fair trade," but not how it tastes. Well, they just didn't do a taste test, so do that yourself. They tell you who goes there ("sketchy intellectuals," striking TAs, Ani DiFranco, theater crowds, government workers, Farmers' Market shoppers) and even who sits where (graduate students in back, undergrads in front). And they tell you about the music (e.g., at Michaelangelo's they let the staff bring in the music, so you're hearing whatever someone who happens to be working there at the time happens to like). You can also see what food there is and whether there's WiFi (there is, at all but two).

Did they really need Starbucks' permission to report this information? I think they just wanted to make Starbucks look like unfriendly corporate clods. The suggestion, as usual, is that you shouldn't go there because they aren't locally owned. I think Starbucks should be compared on the quality of the place (music, seating, other customers) and the drinks and food. Not doing so gives the impression it is actually better than the locally owned places, when in fact it isn't.

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