Best Coffee Cluster in the Greater Boston Area

coffee14Back in February I promised to spill the beans on my favorite coffee clusters and where to find them. But if you’ve forgotten what the heck a coffee cluster is, refresh your memory with the Top Ten Reasons Coffee Clusters are a Writer’s Best Friend.

Ready for the big reveal? First place in the Greater Boston coffee cluster competition goes to . . . Davis Square, Somerville. Five writer friendly cafes all within one or two blocks of each other make this area the mother of all coffee clusters. It’s easily accessible by T – Red line to the Davis Square stop – and there are several public parking lots with 3 hour meters that take credit cards so you’re never stuck searching for quarters. Check out this map for parking locations.

DIESEL CAFÉ – 257 Elm Street, Hours: 6 – 11pm M-F, 7-11pm, S & S.

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Diesel is hands-down the best place to write in Davis Square and perhaps all of Greater Boston. It’s a large, bustling coffee shop with good food and drink and great crowd energy. Diesel patrons are as happily diverse as one can find in a Boston area café. The place is full of students, the LGBT community, older folks, babies, the middle-aged, even the occasional dog. Patrons and staff also boast the best collection of tats I’ve seen in any coffee shop. Most of these folks come to the Diesel to work (at least most arrive with a laptop), which makes for a place full of productive energy.

The second thing that sets Diesel apart is their booths. If you know of another café with large, relatively comfy booths please let me know because a writer should never underestimate the power of a comfortable seat. Not only can you spread your pages out, your butt will be much happier here than in one of those small wooden chairs that populate most coffee shops. Amazingly, it’s really okay for one person to grab a booth and stay there all day – as long as you’re willing to share. Strangers routinely split booths. In fact, small signs reading “your seat here” occasionally pop up on the empty side of a booth.

carol2 But if you’re wary of sharing, afraid of getting stuck talking to some stranger during your precious writing hours, rest assured most potential booth mates at Diesel seem equally happy not to chat. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have seen friendliness misinterpreted as friendship here with tiresome consequences. So if you’re worried about protecting your writing time, by all mean be civil but chilly.

The booths are almost always occupied but they do turn over. If your heart or butt is set on one, start at a table within sight of the booths and keep your eyes open while working. “Diesel vision” – described by one patron as the ability to be engrossed in work while remaining alert to the first signs a booth is being vacated – develops the more time you spend here. When someone gets up, hover while they pack their stuff. If you don’t, someone else will.

carol3 Diesel also has procrastination aids. I hesitate to talk about these because writers should be writing but occasionally we all deserve a break. In good weather, the front wall of the café opens like a garage door letting in the sun, which always makes me want to take a vacation. So if you need to screw around a bit there are two pool tables, a photo booth and even a small cabinet of games in the way back.

Diesel does have two drawbacks, however. A significant number of tables don’t have plugs nearby so if you need an outlet, you’ll have to pick and choose your seat.  In addition, internet is not free. If you need it, be prepared to spend $5 an hour, $8 a day or $14 a month.

IYO – 234 Elm Street, Hours: 8-11pm M-F, 8-11:30pm Sat, 8-10:30pm Sun

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Just down Elm Street from Diesel is IYO, a café with frozen yogurt and DIY waffle bar that also serves soups, salads and sandwiches. If you’re spending the day writing this is a good place to start. It’s quiet and fairly empty in the morning unlike Diesel, which is often jammed at that time. There’s also a great fresh fruit bar with local homemade Greek yogurt if you haven’t had breakfast. IYO is an attractive spot with brick walls, wood floors and a large gas fireplace that makes it especially cozy on a cold, winter day. The frozen yogurt is also discounted in the winter – the colder it gets the cheaper the yogurt. A room in the back with a floor to ceiling chalkboard is a good space for groups although it’s occasionally rented out. Two hours of free internet come with every purchase. Ask for the password when paying for your order.

IYO gets crowded after school, in the evenings and on weekends. During those times, I’ve seen signs reserving the tables next to the fireplace for those not using internet or laptops. However, there are plenty of other tables with easily accessible plugs.

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STARBUCKS: 260 Elm Street, Hours: 5:30–10:30pm M-F, 6:30–10:30pm S & S

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Davis Square possesses a better than average Starbucks. It’s larger than most and has a two-sided gas fireplace. Unfortunately, the four comfy chairs pulled up close to the hearth are situated in such a way that you can’t see the flames. A counter runs the length of the storefront windows with high stools that have only partial backs (no comfy lounging here) but there are plenty of outlets. There’s also a very large table the stretches across the room for patrons to share with lots of plugs. In the warmer months there’s an outside patio. Internet is free with no time restrictions but it’s extremely slow and occasionally doesn’t work at all.

Mr. CREPE – 51 Davis Square, HOURS 7 – 11pm

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Formerly the Someday Café, Mr. Crepe is located next to the Somerville Theatre. Its extra-large windows right on Davis Square make it the best people-watching spot in the area. This is the place to come when your characters are giving you trouble. If you need to nail down a gesture, a facial expression, hairstyle or walk, grab a table by the window and drink it in. Power outlets are plentiful below the windows and along a counter with high-backed stools facing the wall. Internet is supposed to be available but it’s often not working. As long as you’re not expecting authentic French cuisine, both the sweet and savory crepes are quite good.

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AU BON PAIN – 18 Holland Street, HOURS: 6 – 7pm

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Every decent coffee cluster needs a fallback location where you can count on finding a seat no matter how crowded everywhere else is. Au Bon Pain, in the Harvard Vanguard Building, is that spot. It’s a perfectly serviceable café with inexpensive food, power outlets along two walls and free internet with no time limit. The internet is slow but reliable. However, if you’re looking for a writer vibe, you’re not going to find it here. Its one added bonus is the outdoor seating area available during the warmer months.

 

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Enjoy and stay tuned for more posts about other great Coffee Clusters in the Boston Area.

6 comments

  1. Cynthia Johnson

    Thanks, Carol, you’ve done a wonderful job in outlining the territory. I love Davis Square and now you’ve made it more accessible for me. I’m usually at Starbucks, but will now venture across the street.

  2. Michael Nolan

    Great article, Carol! I live out in the boonies and I don’t know of one independent coffee shop. It’s either Dunk’n Donuts or Starbucks; and the patrons don’t write, they scratch lottery tickets. Dunkies always has CNN cranked up beyond migraine level.

    Oh weep for this lonely artist, forced to drink his Extra Large Black silently, at his home.

    I long for the great consulting sessions I had with Lisa Borders at Diesel.

  3. Emily Ross

    Mike, I am in the same boat. Nothing but Dunk’n and a single Starbucks that attracts a distinctly non-writing crowd in Quincy. Wish Davis Square were closer.

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