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Is "Going for Coffee?" as Dull as Decaf?

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It seems to us that in recent history, say five to ten years ago, "going for coffee" was the thing to do. Rowdy teens got rowdier on enormous ceramic mugfuls of sugary mochas topped with mounds of whipped cream, the intellectual set sipped espresso, and everyone in between cradled warm mugs of stiff beany brews. It was almost as if, for a mere moment or two, that "going for coffee" was more in than "going for drinks." Let's face it: Coffee was hot. But what's happened to that era, we wonder? When did the cozy, dark confines of a neighborhood coffeehouse give way to the ubiquitous, sterile, and predictable routine of corporate coffee? Is going for coffee a lost art form?

Back in said day, we were frequent patrons, (or, occasionally fixtures) at several caffeinated watering holes, like the long-defunct Grounds Zero, or the All-Star in the Knickerbocker Hotel, both in then-underdeveloped pockets of Hollywood real estate. (Incidentally, both of these spots rated mention in this 1998 LA Weekly article on nightlife in LA.) Some spots survive, like Aroma, Stir Crazy, Insomnia, or the Bourgeois Pig. Getting a table at one of these places was like winning a prize; now it's like a novelty to suggest a coffee meet-up. Nostalgic, even.

But we know coffee hasn't gone out of vogue; how could it? It seems its become less a journey or destination, but more of a routine. The sometimes cheerful counter jockey in their jaunty regulation logo cap at your local Starbucks or Coffee Bean probably knows your regular order: "Grande half caf non-fat one equal no whip extra hot one pump mocha!" Don't they seem to reel a little when someone orders just a plain drip, too? Instead of leisurely sipping the complicated brew, we're content to slide on its little cardboard sleeve, and slide ourselves back into our cars, heading off to some other destination. All the ritual and comfort has been replaced by tireless marketing strategies, do-gooder bulletin boards full of corporate accolades, glossy surfaces, and recognition masking anonymity. They know your drink, but do they know you? Give us our pierced and unpredictable coffee bar staff, our unsullied simple drinks served in logo free cups, the haphazard musical selection on the sound system, the pool tables, the crowds of ne'er do wells, and the creaky shelves brimming over with board games and stray books. And while we freely admit, when Starbucks trots out the Peppermint Mochas around the holidays, we get a little jazzed about the red sprinkles and the Christmassy flavor, we never, ever, sit down to sip it inside Starbucks' sacred walls. We can't help but feel that "going for coffee" has fallen from grace; we're hooked on the drug but we don't socialize in our clinics. So what happened, LA? When did we wake up and smell the coffee?