Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Cafes

2 Jan

Several weeks ago I promised to restart my Rediscovering Downtown Oakland series and asked for suggestions on what categories to cover. I’m starting off with Cathy’s request: “how about coffeeshops? with room to sit in?” I was a bit surprised, looking back at my 2009 series, that I had not covered cafes, especially since there are several fantastic places to sip coffee and tea downtown. It seemed like an appropriate place to start, since as many of us return from vacations to work this week we might need or benefit from some extra caffeine.

Here are a few of my favorites. (Note that besides being great cafes to enjoy with friends or colleagues, all of these places also offer free wi-fi so they’re great places to work too.)

Awaken Cafe – 1429 Broadway at 15th

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I’ve long been a fan of Awaken Cafe. Awaken used to be located on 14th Street, just a block and a half from the office I worked at for many years so I often stopped in for a chai, coffee, or tea. I was so sad when they closed and were forced to move but was excited when they reopened last year on Broadway at 15th, a half block away from my current office.

Right now they’re operating as a coffee cart out of OAKOLLECTIV, Monday-Friday from 7:30am-noon, offering their full array of caffeinated beverages and pastries. But in February they’ll be opening up in their permanent home at 1429 Broadway. Here’s how they describe the future space:

The full 2000 sq ft cafe will add plenty of seating (indoor and outdoor), beer and wine, organic ice-cream, longer hours, an expanded home brew and retail area, additional creative food items, awesome events, cool performances and more.

There is a LOT to be excited about in that description, but, despite the current cold weather, what I’m most excited about is the organic ice cream. Every summer I lament that there’s no great ice cream in downtown Oakland, especially as multiple delicious ice cream and gelato spots have opened throughout North Oakland. There’s a huge market for ice cream downtown, yet no one has stepped up to serve it. This summer I was tweeting back and forth with a bunch of people, all of us complaining about the lack of ice cream downtown when I realized that Awaken would be a perfect place to offer it. Luckily, they had already planned to.

But until the summer arrives, you should still stop in for their warming beverages. My favorite drink is the chai, which I think is easily the best chai in Oakland. Chais at other places are often cloyingly sweet, but not so at Awaken.

Farley’s East – 33 Grand Avenue, between Broadway & Webster

If you’re looking for somewhere to caffeinate, eat a meal, have a meeting, work online, or grab a beer, Farley’s is your place. It’s one of the larger cafes in downtown Oakland, offering plenty of seating downstairs and upstairs. Farley’s is very community oriented, participating in PARKing day every year and holding monthly mixer/fundraisers for local nonprofit organizations.

Though it can get a bit crowded and noisy, I’ve found it’s the perfect place for small morning meetings or evening meetings on the nights that they’re open later. Not only is it great for meetings because there’s enough room, but also because they have a pretty large food menu. Meetings full of hungry people are not so enjoyable.

But maybe you just want to enjoy your latte alone – Farley’s is good for that too. Many people set up with their laptops, but if you want to pull yourself away from your computer for a while, they sell a huge selection of magazines so you’re sure to be able to find something to read. If you’re looking for a non-coffee option while you read or type away, try the lychee tea, which I probably would drink daily if it was on my (very full) tea shelf at home.

Caffe Teatro – 300 Frank Ogawa Plaza off 15th

Since Awaken Cafe won’t offer seating until February, I’ve come to enjoy meeting people at Cafe Teatro. There’s plenty of seating inside and out, including chairs and couches. The staff at Teatro are super friendly and the service is quick so it’s also a great place to grab some tea or coffee on the go.

Somehow I only recently noticed that Teatro serves sandwiches, soups and salads, and though I’ve yet to eat lunch there, I’ve heard the food is good.

The one downside of Teatro is their limited hours – they’re only open until 4pm on weekdays and not at all on weekends.

Zaya Cafe – 1768 Broadway at 19th Street

Zaya is a place I might never have stopped into, except that it was right next door to the Prop 19 campaign office so I often stopped their for tea or coffee before going to meetings at the office when I worked on the campaign. I’m so glad I happened upon it because it offers something that no other cafe I know of downtown does – quiet. Though there’s plenty of space to sit at the back of the cafe, including comfortable couches and armchairs, most people grab their drinks and food and go so I’ve rarely seen it crowded there. This makes it perfect for a one on one meeting or for getting some serious work done.

Zaya has the basic cafe breakfast food items, but not much lunchy food. One thing I love though is that they have smoothies, which were so refreshing on hot days during campaign season.

What’s your favorite downtown cafe?

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’d love to hear about more cafes, especially in other downtown neighborhoods so please share in the comments. I would also be happy to take more requests for what I should cover next in this series.

12 Responses to “Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Cafes”

  1. dan cohen January 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Modern Coffee. Trib Tower. A “must” on any cafe visit list. Amazing java. Great (!!!!) staff. Never fail to meet someone interesting there. and @moderncoffee. Plus a killer (!!) new art installation where yarn meets geometry.

    • Becky January 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

      I LOVE Modern Coffee. Not a great place if you’re looking to sit down, but their coffee and espresso is amazing. Also, they carry kouign ammans from Starter Bakery!

  2. andy k January 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Will check out these.

    I like modern coffee for the coffee. Great selection of beans, and the staff has always given me good recommendations.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) January 3, 2012 at 7:45 am #

      In my first draft of this blog post, I had included Modern Coffee. But when I sat down to write the description of it, I realized I had almost nothing to say. Though I’ve spent a lot of time at the previous incarnations of that cafe, I think I’ve only been to Modern Coffee twice and I’ve never had their coffee. With this kind of reaction though, I think I’ll have to go back!

      For more on Modern Coffee, read Back to Oakland’s review:

      • artemis January 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

        Also, the jelly doughnuts there are to die for!

  3. Jim T January 3, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I think Cafe Gabriela was a big oversight. They serve Blue Bottle, and Penny (the owner) absolutely nails her cappucinos every time. Plus great local baked goods from Arizmendi and others, and wonderful homemade soups and sandwiches (I hear, never tried ’em).

  4. Brian January 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Here are two more I want to add to the mix:

    Brown Couch Cafe
    340 14th St
    (between Harrison St & Webster St)

    Good News Cafe
    155 17th St
    (between Madison St & Jackson St)

    I’m not really a coffee person, but I can vouch for their smoothies.

    • newoaktown January 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      I thought Brown Couch was okay, but a little “too relaxed” for my taste. A bit campy but they have wifi. Not the best place to get laptop work done; I reserve that for Farley’s East upstairs. I haven’t liked Cafe Madrid hardly at all. I’m not sure what it is about the space but it’s not fun to work in. Maybe it’s the cheap wobbly seats or the cold interior.

      I’m a HUGE fan of Lee’s Donuts on Broadway across from Sears. You can get your last fix of industrial, freshly made on site donuts there. Friendly Cambodian staff. Woohoo! If only they’d offer some organic donuts (i know…) or perhaps “dog nuts”…that would totally bring folks in. Tons of space, no wifi, no bathroom. (Space is poorly laid out, landlord only put a bathroom in the back, so customers would have to traipse through the whole kitchen and storage area to get to it…

      I wish we had a place like Cafe Strada but that would require a huge bustling college campus nearby. Maybe in the future Laney-Lake Merrit-Chinatown will have something for that. Chinatown has a cool cafe called Shooting Star. A bit HK fobby but ok.

      Agree Zaya offers peace and quiet…because downtown Oakland is pretty slow and quiet! Not like SF Market Street. Not sure I’d want Oakland to be like that, maybe more Castro with a bit of Little Italy and a better, more strongly defined and multi-multi-use Oakland Chinatown.

      There’s also, far from Broadway, Cafe 15 by the state agencies. I hear it’s decent.

  5. karen February 19, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Brown Couch Cate on 14th between Webster and Harrison is a must. The best wraps and sandwiches. Smoothies, coffee and more. Wonderful ambiance and terrific service!

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