I’m not a fan, but this article almost makes me one:

For all their ostensible authenticity, such adventures in interior design cannot match the truly radical act of installing espresso machines in bank lobbies. Like Seattle’s other great cultural export from the early 1990s, Nirvana, Starbucks has always been most vital, most interesting, most revolutionary when at its most commercial….

In the late 1980s, of course, there weren’t many cafés serving high-quality coffee anywhere. Coffee consumption per capita was at its lowest point since 1962, soft drinks had recently surpassed hot caffeine as the nation’s favorite beverage, and Coke was in the midst of a campaign advertising its utility as a breakfast drink. The few cafés that were selling espressos and capuccinos, however, were located precisely in places like Wicker Park.

In choosing to locate his outlets in busy downtown locations, Schultz was expanding the world of high-end coffee—diversifying it, in fact, by taking it beyond its insular, self-conscious subculture. The décor of his stores amplified this process. They had the clean and slick streamlining of a fast food restaurant but were more comfortably appointed. Instead of walls lined with old books, there were gleaming espresso machines for sale, packages of whole beans, ceramic cups. They felt a little like a Williams-Sonoma store crossed with an unusually tasteful airport lounge. They were cafés for people who would never set foot in a bohemian coffeehouse, people traditional coffeehouse entrepreneurs had completely ignored.

For less than the price of a Whopper, you could hang out in a sophisticated middlebrow lounge/office for hours on end. And they were popping up everywhere. Exclusive, elitist? Starbucks was exactly the opposite, introducing millions of people who didn’t know their arabica from their robusto to the pleasures of double espressos. Finally, good coffee had been liberated from the proprietary clutches of hipsters, campus intellectuals, and proto-foodies and shared with bank managers and real estate agents. In offices across America, it suddenly smelled like ’ffeine spirit….

Eventually, Schultz relented. And really, what greater punk-rock middle finger is there to purist prescriptions about what constitutes a true coffee drink than a blended ice beverage flavored with Pumpkin Spice powder?…

But if Starbucks really hopes to re-establish its authority as an innovative, forward-thinking trailblazer, it should perhaps use its next experimental venue to honor its heritage as the first chain to take gourmet coffee culture beyond the narrow boundaries of traditional coffeehouse values and aesthetics. Imagine a place with matching chairs, clean tables, beverages that look like ice cream sundaes, Norah Jones on the sound system, and absolutely no horrid paintings from local artists decorating the walls. A place, that is, exactly like Starbucks!

Because despite its ubiquity, despite its advancing years, Starbucks is still the most radical thing to hit the coffeehouse universe in the last 50 years.

I still don’t much like the taste of their coffee, however, which is why I frequent Viva: not unlike a Starbucks, only with better coffee and delicious food (and free wifi).

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