For seasoned Athenians, Donkey Coffee probably isn’t a major revelation. For many of us, the locally owned café, tucked just off of Court St., is just as prominent as the ever ubiquitous Starbucks, perhaps even more so, and for good reason.
While the difference in coffee quality is negligible for most anyone who doesn’t consider themselves a connoisseur, the atmosphere most certainly is not.
Sure, the baristas are just as young and hipster-esque as the ones in your favorite national coffee franchise but with them, you get a sense of authenticity that is immediately apparent. At Donkey you never feel as though the people behind the counter were chosen to fulfill some sort of preordained corporate diversity mandate. As the kilt-laden latte-ist elegantly prepares your coffee with a four-inch fixed blade sheathed at his waist, you get the feeling that the coffee shop you’ve found yourself in is in fact the antithesis of corporate coffee. You get the impression that even while they have a featured flavored concoction every month, a pumpkin spiced latte is as welcome in here as the bubonic plague.
The atmosphere of the sitting room is equally foreign to those of us who have grown accustomed to the predictable minimalism of big-name chains. Instead of carefully designed matching seats and stone-tiled fireplaces, there is a mismatched melange of tables and chairs seemingly scavenged from the attics of a hundred grandparents. There are old boardgames on every shelf, murals of 1960’s music legends on the walls, and a dim sort of lighting that makes one feel oddly philosophical. It’s the kind of place where you could feel welcome to sit for many hours studying for a big exam or else locked in spirited political debate without fear of having overstayed your welcome.
The fun doesn’t stop at coffee and good atmosphere, though. Donkey has that beautiful sense of “why not?” that one can only ever seem to find at a local joint. Twice a week, for instance, they host an open stage, one a slam poetry night in which willing wordsmiths gather to bare their beatnik souls and snap each other their praises; the other an open mic for amateur and expert musicians alike to spend some time practicing in front of a supportive audience. They also host a wide variety of concerts and performance art shows, a full list of which can be found on their site. I challenge you to find any of these things at your local Starbucks.
Donkey’s sense of its customers’ needs is never more clear, though than during exam week. During finals, Donkey is open 24 hours a day so that students can come and get their caffeine fix even into the wee hours of the night to fuel their marathon study sessions.
In short, Donkey is a fantastic coffee shop, but what sets it apart from all the rest is everything else that it is. So next time you’re thinking of stopping in at Front Room for your daily dose of java, consider walking a bit further down the road for an experience that’s a little bit different.