Brandy Mow and I try very hard to get together each Monday for a writing session. When it isn’t raining, we each walk from our homes down to Taylor Maid Coffee in the Barlow, which is one block northeast of downtown Sebastopol. We get a tea (Brandy) or a coffee drink (me) or sometimes hot chocolate (either of us). We get some kind of pastry or treat that is loaded with butter and refined sugar. The treats are displayed beneath the counter at the front. The first hour or two is usually spent talking about books, episodic television, and our lives. Brandy’s is far more interesting than mine. The second two hours are spent writing. We don’t use computers; we sit with our spiral-bound notebooks, which often have softened and creased corners, and our pens. Sometimes a pen runs out and we have to borrow from one another.
The last quarter of 2016, I was able to schedule writing get-togethers with my friends Beth and Michelle. Beth and Michelle came from the Atlas Coffee writing group, which met the first Saturday of each month. Michelle founded the Atlas Coffee group. The group is on open group on Meet-Up, and the scheduling and the open nature meant it didn’t work well as a critique group for me, even though I liked the people. Michelle has since left the group. Beth continues to attend it. With their work schedules, it isn’t as easy to set up writing dates for the three of us, but we managed to get together twice with a goal of writing.
The first time we met was at Coffee Catz. Coffee Catz is at the east end of town, almost to the laguna, in a complex that includes a train car converted to a barbecue restaurant. The Sebastopol Inn is directly behind Coffee Catz, and they have, to some extent, coopted it, mentioning” their” Victorian-style coffee house in their ad copy. Coffee Catz predates the Inn if I remember correctly. We liked it enough that we’ve met there two times since, during the holiday breaks, to write. Beth and Michelle use laptops. I used pen and paper the first time, and brought my baby laptop the second time. Outlets are elusive.
Coffee Catz has a better menu than Taylor Maid, which is to say it has a menu. They have entrees; salads, sandwiches, soup, and wraps. (Are wraps sandwiches?) Taylor Maid, living in the Barlow and surrounded with restaurants, is not about a meal; it’s about coffee. Coffee Catz is about meals.
Taylor Maid is industrial. The coffee house is the front end of their roasting facility and warehouse. They used to be closer to the center of town, and their “tasting room” was a tiny office with an espresso machine and a couple of hot-pots. They are thriving in the Barlow. The coffee house has a loft up a flight of wooden stairs. The bar in the loft is studded with electrical outlets, and one of the barista there told me that during the work week, most of the people up there are treating the space as their office; making work calls and working on their laptops. There are two community tables upstairs that will hold six each, a couple of smaller tables and one overstuffed chair in the corner with a floor lamp next to it. A window at the back overlooks the warehouse and if you’re lucky, some days you can stand there and watch a person at one machine fill cans with coffee beans and seal the can.
Downstairs, the bar is a long narrow U-shape; distressed wood and metal, functional, clean. There are a couple of community tables downstairs, a few small tables, a bar at the front that runs along two window walls, and a short bar at the back. Part of the space downstairs is taken up with a display table, which I think is poorly placed because it drives the coffee line straight back into the door. And this place nearly always has a line to order and a line to pick up. It’s very popular. We can’t always get a table at Taylor Maid, at least not right away.
The front has a regular door and a garage style door that, during warm weather, someone walks out and hauls up in the early afternoon, pushing and waiting, arms up-stretched, until the door hits its equilibrium spot and doesn’t start rolling back down. There are also tables outside. There is no table service at Taylor Maid. The art on the walls is coffee-bean-production themed, photographic, professional and impersonal.
The place can get very noisy.
Coffee Catz comprises two longish rooms and a cramped kitchen/order counter. On the high counter, in transparent plastic displays cases, sit various pastries. A very full double menu high on the wall gives you your choice of beverages and food. They sell T-shirts, Hawaiian-themed mostly (I have no idea what that’s about). As you might expect, some of the tchotchkes on the wall are cat-based. In the main room, padded benches run along two walls, and there are several small round tables that comfortably hold two, or three if you are willing to crowd in. The padded benches are augmented with pillow of various colors. Near the entrance to the counter is a low sofa and a couple of overstuffed chairs with a low table. Electrical outlets exist but it’s a search to find them sometimes. When you order “for here” at Coffee Catz, you get a plastic token with a number, and someone brings your order to your table.
The place can get very noisy.
The back room can be reserved, but that’s not as easy as it might seem. The back room has larger tables that easily seat four and if you are looking for a place to do writing, it’s your best bet. The second time we met there, I had tried to reserve a table in that room. I contacted the manager, as the barista told me to, and gave her our specifics. She noted them down, she said. She asked me to call the staff the day of the reservation and remind them. I did. Before I finished saying what times I wanted the table for, the person on the call said, “Oh, yes, we’ve got you.” They didn’t. When we got there all the tables were taken, and there was a sticky-note pinned to the velvety curtain in the door that said someone had the room from 1:00 pm to 4:00, which actually overlapped with my reservation. When I asked about this, the counter person said that the person I’d spoken to must have thought I was from that group. We managed to find a table and it was fine, but it didn’t reassure me about reserving a room.
The next time we met I tried again, at the counter. The barista wrote down my information on a yellow sticky-note (which seemed promising). When we got there, our table was safely and accurately reserved for us. So right now, they are fifty-percent on the reservation thing. My take-away was this; it is best to go there in person if you want to reserve a table, or the room.
The art on the walls is largely impressionistic or school-of-impressionism, including a brushstroke-heavy portrait of Janis Joplin next to the piano. Because, yes, piano. A sign asks that customers hold back on their urge to play the piano until after 10:30 am, but after that, it’s there for anyone, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
The style of Coffee Catz is fabric and chintz and warm, bright colors, shawls and drapes (the piano has a fringed shawl); I doubt it’s very “Victorian” but it attempts to capture what some Victorians thought the “theater set” or “gypsies” lived like –a shabby romantic look.
Based on experience and statistics, I’m more likely to see someone I know at Taylor Maid than I am at Coffee Catz.
Both places are good writing environments, even with the noise. In terms of beverages, Taylor Maid edges out Coffee Catz for me, mainly because I like their hot chocolate better. Coffee Catz has an unintended secret weapon, though; a chocolatier opened up in the space next to them. That’s a draw. I can’t dispute it.