The first thing you notice is the denim everybody’s wearing. I’m talking Brooke Shields, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins,” high-waisted denim. The second thing that hits you is the funky red, orange, and purple décor. The last thing you see is the coffee. If it weren’t for the bags of micro-roasted beans and aroma of pressed sandwiches, you’d think that Austin’s Coffee was a thrift store, or maybe a shelter for sad, nostalgic teenagers. The shelves in the back of the shop house a used book collection ranging from encyclopedias to self-help guides and romance novels. Nobody reads these books, but that is beyond the point. Along with the stacks of dated board games (all missing pieces), they add to the shop’s ironic flair.
What seems to make Austin’s so irresistible to the Orlando and Winter Park community is its location. It sits on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, meaning that it attracts college students from UCF and Rollins but maintains a steady patronage consisting of all age groups. The walls are covered in random art and posters advertising local plays, book readings, and bands.
Austin’s hosts a variety of music, stand-up, and poetry events throughout the week, and Tuesday evenings are especially popular for the shop. When I initially heard about the Open Mic: Singer/Songwriter night, I had my reservations. I tend to avoid independent coffee shops in Orlando; I rank places like Downtown Credo Coffee, Stardust Video and Coffee, and Austin’s on a scale of utter obnoxiousness. There’s a boiling point which, if reached, could result in a harsh exchange of words with a hipster. But I also had a nasty cold. Warm, cozy coffee sounded, in my flu-induced delirium, like paradise.
It was fairly early in the evening, so I missed the late-night eccentrics that a 24-hour coffee shop like Austin’s can attract. Posing uncomfortably on what looked like a urine-covered sectional, I found two distinctively different people having an unusually personal conversation. They were sitting on the dangerously unstable counter stools, discussing their latest projects with a friendly openness that surprised me.
Jake Pasko, who recently moved from Los Angeles to Orlando, usually gets his coffee fix here around midnight. Since he’s part of the late-night crowd, he’s prone to serendipitous, caffeinated conversations with strangers.
“Austin’s is a very special place in the city,” he said. “You meet a lot of open-minded people here. I’m from L.A. and everyone’s open-minded there, but sometimes it’s hard to find that in Florida. In Austin’s, nobody thinks you’re crazy for talking to them.”
Although the menu was the initial attraction for Pasko, it was the atmosphere that turned him into a regular. Evan Anderson, who was chatting with Pasko, also enjoys the camaraderie: “Austin’s has really cool people. I’ve been coming here for years and know all the baristas and all the people that hang out here. It’s fun, and the community aspect is really what’s awesome.”
Anderson remembers an evening when a band living out of a vintage Volkswagen bus played at Austin’s, unleashing what he described as some of the most horrendous synthesizer music known to man.
“The keyboardist was so into the music,” said Anderson, “that it turned from the most awful noise to something absolutely beautiful in how bad it was.”
The same can be said of Austin’s Coffee.
The atmosphere isn’t contrived, and it’s certainly less solipsistic than other coffee shops. Preston Hall, a long-time patron, musician, and friend of the Austin’s staff, noted that other coffee shops like Stardust make people feel as if they are in “a bunch of little tiny bubbles that don’t interact,” whereas Austin’s is “one, gigantic bubble, where everyone interacts.”
According to Hall, Austin’s is great at “having certain types of people getting together and meeting each other.
“But they’re not even certain types of people,” he followed, “you get every type of person at Austin’s.”
Most independent coffee shops have the same set of employees and attitude. The baristas usually wear horn-rimmed glasses and have Kickstarter campaigns they’d love to tell you about. Austin’s, however, doesn’t give a damn about projecting a specific image of “hipness.” The owner, Sean Moore, thinks the magic of Austin’s is in its inclusive atmosphere. His philosophy? “Open your doors to everyone. The open-mindedness and creativity; you never put a cap on it.” Like Hall, Moore sees Austin’s as one of the few harmonious places in Orlando.
“You’ve got the rich and poor sitting together with nothing in common but a cup of coffee. The community we live in dictates that divide. Winter Park happens to be a place where you have the filthy rich and the filthy poor. All we offer them is coffee.”
Who cares about the awful Bob Dylan acoustic covers and slightly overpriced teas? The casual, devil-may-care attitude of the place grows on you. Austin’s is endearing in its cheerful griminess.
Either that, or they put something in the coffee beans.