The grand opening of the Warch Campus Center – a veritable fortress of 21st-century comforts, a shining city-plex on a hill, a paradise where the lights are grouped in “zones” and the tiniest sneeze reverberates for all to appreciate in a super-acoustic bubble of love and friendship – marked a significant change in student life here at Lawrence. With decent coffee and bagels a mere swipe away, it would be easy for a new student to spend his or her entire week within the confines of the Lawrence bubble. But there’s something to be said for cultivating a capital-S Spot, a little corner of Appleton to which one can flee for more old-fashioned comforts: a cup of coffee paid for with something other than Culinary Cash and unofficial membership in a community of strangers who have all chosen the same cafe as their home away from home. Here is a brief introduction to four such communities, all located within walking distance of campus.Harmony Café Harmony Café is the closest coffee shop to the Lawrence campus, residing approximately one minute east of the conservatory at 233 E. College Ave. Formerly located on Oneida St., Harmony moved in to its present location in spring 2009. Harmony – a non-profit operation affiliated with Goodwill of North Central Wisconsin – is beloved for its warm atmosphere and its positive presence in the community at large. From the “Check it at the Door Declaration” gracing the front entrance to the busy schedule of weekly events and concerts, it is immediately apparent that Harmony intends to live up to its name. This café is equally beloved for its extensive lunch and dinner menu, which is reasonably priced and includes a smattering of vegetarian and vegan options. The “Vegan Sunrise Bar” is a popular breakfast option, while the “Walnut Burger” – try it with the avocado spread – makes for a hearty lunch or dinner. The drink menu at Harmony includes two excellent Chai recipes. This creamy, spicy drink is an American coffeehouse staple loosely based on traditional Indian Masala Chai, but it is all too often made with syrupy concentrates or suspect powders. At Harmony, Chai means real tea mixed with a dollop of steamed milk, topped with a mix of spices and lightly sweetened.
Aspen Coffee & Tea Aspen Coffee & Tea is better known to upperclassmen as “Brewed Awakenings,” and in the interest of preserving a valued legacy, it is important that incoming students know this little bit of history. Brewed was a mainstay at 107 E. College Ave. and a particular favorite for many students and professors. A family operation founded by a trio of teenaged siblings in 2004, Brewed was popular in large part because of its excellent bakery menu and its high-quality coffee and espresso. In early spring 2010, the ownership changed hands and Brewed became a part of Aspen Coffee & Tea, a small chain with locations throughout the Fox Valley area. Change is evident in all sorts of little ways – gone are the handy little paper punch cards – but much of what made Brewed special remains unaltered. The baristas craft the best lattes in walking distance. The bakery menu changes from day to day, but the delicious “Omega-3 Muffin” is nearly always available. The vegan creations are as rich as those made with dairy, and the Nutella gelato is as good as it sounds. If you’re lucky, you might even find a bottle of commercial Kombucha: an overpriced, variably alcoholic, delicious probiotic fermented tea wrapped in unabashedly new-age packaging. If all of these options sound too bourgeois, you can always opt for the plain old coffee, which comes from Alterra, a famed Milwaukee institution. The two window tables make for excellent people watching, if you’re into that sort of thing. And in the winter, those same windows are foggy, frosty and ripe for drawing on with your index finger.
Copper Rock Coffee Copper Rock Coffee is located a short walk west of Aspen, at 207 W. College Ave. Copper Rock is notable for its well-rounded offerings and its roomy, comfortable atmosphere. The lunch and dinner menu is the most comprehensive of the four College Avenue cafés, with solid sandwiches and soups. The coffee is great, as is the extensive array of Rishi Teas. A trusted friend tells me that Copper Rock is the best place to finish an all-nighter, because the armchairs will swallow you whole and the booths offer room to spread out a chaotic array of papers. In case you are planning on taking advantage of Copper Rock’s extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays, it is worth keeping in mind that the café is very popular with local high school students. For some, their eternally buzzing smartphone-machines might be a deal breaker. But for others, their presence provides an opportunity to wallow in nostalgia while watching first love bloom over so-called “frappes.”
Acoca Coffee Acoca Coffee is a little off the beaten path because, at 500 W. College Avenue, it requires something of a trek. That said, coffee purists might want to brave the relatively long walk. Each cup of coffee at Acoca is brewed individually from beans that are roasted daily in-store. The menu is extensive, with a number of different beans and the usual lineup of espresso drinks and teas. Many vegans appreciate Acoca’s delicious soy milkshakes, which are made with Chocolate Shoppe ice cream.