The hardest decision students must make during their time in college has nothing to do with choosing their major or making career plans. For students who spend hours upon hours of time on campus, the most important decision they will make is where to buy their coffee.
This may sound like an exaggeration, but the truth is that coffee is an integral part of the college experience for many people. Some don’t start drinking coffee until they get to school. Some can’t function without their morning latté. Even tea lovers and pop drinkers can agree that caffeine is what keeps the college engine running smoothly (maybe aside from something along the lines of “hard work and dedication”).
Athens is the perfect college town: a place where people from all different backgrounds can come together to bond over their love of knowledge and coffee. Court Street is home to so many different shops, eateries and personalities. There are a lot of options for where to fill your OU travel mug, but the culture of a coffee shop is much more than just who has the best macchiato. Students and faculty visit these shops to fuel up on caffeine as well as study, eat with friends and colleagues, and attend shows.
Donkey Coffee, Court Street Coffee and Brenen’s are three of the most popular places to enjoy the full coffee shop experience. Each shop has its own personality, a fan club of regulars who will support it over the others, and at least one unique feature to pull people in. The differences between the shops are what make the regulars so loyal to their café of choice.
Megan Geldien, a sophomore, visits Donkey Coffee, 17 W. Washington St., about once a week. She grabs a drink then finds a place to sit and get some work done. She describes the atmosphere at Donkey as “cozy.”
“It’s a good place to focus and have a quiet place to study,” Geldien says. As she studies, Geldien usually sips on a chaider, which is a combination of chai tea and apple cider. The chaider is her favorite drink, but she gets coffee from time to time. “I like getting the coffee here because it’s a local place. They participate in fair trade. It’s an all-around good deal.”
Sitting in Donkey Coffee is a lot like sitting in someone else’s grandmother’s house. Comfy chairs and couches can be found alongside wooden table-and-chair sets that seat two to four people. This is the place you come to for your soy hot chocolate and organic black bean salad. When you get your order “for here” at Donkey, you will receive your snack or beverage in reusable ceramic dishware. Artwork from local artists hangs on nearly every inch of the paneled walls of the shop. In the back lounge, there is a bookcase full of board games. Of all the shops on Court Street, Donkey is possibly the most talked about. Students and faculty rave about the cool vibe and friendly faces found there.
Maddy Stees, a sophomore and self-proclaimed regular at Donkey, says the place has an “organic” vibe. “There’s just no bullshit about it,” Stees says. “It’s got just a really great college-coffee-shop vibe and the people there are just really, really fun and some of the goofiest people I think I’ve ever met.”
At Donkey, you may encounter a barista wearing a kilt, and if it’s not too busy, someone behind the counter will probably be singing. The shop has a way of making its customers feel comfortable, especially when it’s cold and snowing outside and you are tucked in a corner chair by the window, sipping organic herbal tea.
Donkey is known for its open mic nights on Thursdays as well as other performances that are frequently hosted in the back lounge on the first floor, where there is a small stage and a fair amount of sitting room for show-goers. Geldien appreciates these performances, especially the music nights on weekends.
Where Donkey Coffee is inviting and cozy, Brenen’s (38 S. Court St) is classy and perhaps a bit intimidating.
If you’ve never been before, Brenen’s has a way of making the new customer feel out of place. Maybe it’s the green and black color scheme, or the look of the dark wood floors, but there is a very hip feeling about the shop. When you first walk in you might think, “I am not cool enough for this place.” But the people behind the counter will be especially nice to you. If you look lost they will smile. After about the third visit, once you’ve had a chance to sit down and get settled, you will realize that, actually, you fit right in.
Brenen’s doesn’t feature a lot of elbow room during busy hours. The small tables and chairs are narrowly distanced in a food-court-style setup, and although there is not a lot of space to work with, high ceilings and large glass windows give the shop an airy, open feel. Several large menu boards advertise various specialty drinks and, at the back counter, food options. On an average day, you will find people stationed in front of their Macbooks, headphones in, clearly focused. Some small groups of about two or three will be chatting over soup and sandwiches. The place has a classy feeling, like the cool coffee shop you might see in a movie. And even if you find the buzz of the place too distracting to study, you may still want to stop by for the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste.
Erin Belka, a junior, visited Brenen’s one afternoon to meet with a friend for lunch. She was drinking from a Court Street Coffee cup. “I went to Court Street before class [because] it’s close to Copeland,” Belka said. She and her friend agreed to have lunch at Brenen’s because of the soup and sandwiches served there, and Belka hadn’t finished her morning coffee before arriving. But she said she comes to Brenen’s every once in a while, and she does like their coffee. She even brought her parents to Brenen’s for lunch during Parents Weekend one year. “A lot of professors recommend it,” she said.
There is definitely a belief that Brenen’s is the professor’s coffee shop. Nick Paumgaertel, a Brenen’s employee, said the customers actually are about “half and half” (professors-students). “But compared to other places to eat, I see more professors and faculty here. I think it’s ‘cuz the owner is friends with a lot of them.”
According to Paumgaertel and a lot of OU students, the coffee isn’t really what draws people to Brenen’s. A lot of people come for the food. Kate Blyth, a regular customer and student, said the reason she chose Brenen’s was because, on that particular day, they had potato soup, “and they have free WiFi.” Of course, Donkey offers free WiFi as well — it just wouldn’t feel like a coffee shop if it didn’t.
With food as the focus, Brenen’s is a bit different than the average coffee shop. If the cozy-coffee-nook vibe is what you’re after, Court Street Coffee (67 S Court St.) is more your speed.
Michelle Frantz visits Court Street Coffee an average of once a week. “I love Court Street because I’ve never tried a drink from there that I don’t like,” Frantz says. The Mayan Mocha, which is like a regular mocha but with cinnamon and almond flavors, is her favorite beverage, hot or frozen. “They have a lot of options, especially with drinks that have more unique flavors than the average cup of coffee.”
The Mayan Mocha may be one of the most noteworthy beverages served at Court Street but it is not even advertised on the shop’s menu. The neat list of beverage options posted on the store’s website is identical to the one hanging on the wall behind the short, crowded countertop inside. This list is simple, and not all-inclusive. But some of the most creative beverages one could order from this small café are not posted on the menu. Instead, large posters featuring each beverage and the unique flavor combinations manifested within them are posted all around the shop. Some of these posters hang on the wall in sleek glass frames like movie ads and others decorate the base of the main counter, much like wallpaper.
Court Street Coffee is one of the smallest coffee shops on Court Street, located across the street from Chubb Hall and next door to Copeland Hall, home to the College of Business. Coffee-lovers who spend a lot of their time in Copeland stop in to Court Street to grab something classic like iced coffee or a fancy specialty like the Red Velvet latté. There is not a lot of seating in the little shop. About five tables in the aisle at the back of the store can seat somewhere around 10 people, then there’s a couch and some soft chairs in the front of the store, a high counter with bar stools on one wall, and three more tables to the left of the main counter. There are a couple seats just outside the building for those days with nice weather. If about 30 people go to study in Court Street Coffee, there will not be room for anyone else to sit. For this reason, some find that Court Street is the best place to study.
Lizzy Knapp, a senior, likes to come to Court Street to study if she can score one specific little table in a corner of the shop. The corner table is behind a wall so she can’t see anyone in the main part of the shop; it’s not completely isolated, but still closed off enough so that she feels productive. Knapp prefers the atmosphere of Court Street to other coffee shops. “It doesn’t feel super crowded, or like there’s too much going on on the walls that I could get distracted [by],” she says. Also, “the WiFi is better here.”
If you can find a place to sit, Court Street is warm and welcoming. The atmosphere is calm enough, even during the rushes, that you can focus on your work. If you have a big exam coming up and need a change of scenery from the library or your dorm room, something about the vibe at Court Street is super motivating. Perhaps it’s the orange walls or the sound of the espresso machine, which is never more than a few steps away.
Probably due to the limited seating options, a lot of people sweep through Court Street on an average day, but most grab their drink and leave. Something about the shop, though, keeps the same people coming back. For some, it’s the location — near College Green, next to Copeland, across from Chubb. For others, it’s the quality beverage that they can’t get enough of, or perhaps the new specialty they’d like to try.
Lindsey Cohagan, a senior and regular of Court Street Coffee, has never been to Donkey. “People think Donkey is the best atmosphere,” she says. “I like sitting here.” Cohagan says she prefers to get her coffee from Fluff, which is closer to the end of Court Street, but she visits Court Street Coffee regularly for her vanilla latté, “mostly ’cuz it’s next to Copeland and I’m always in Copeland.” Like Knapp, Cohagan also has a favorite seat in the shop: one of the small tables along the wall in the very back of the shop. Since it’s located in the back, in a hallway behind the main counter, she doesn’t think a lot of people even know the seats are there. The table is big enough to sit only two people, or one student with a lot of books.
Of all the places to get coffee uptown, Court Street is the least likely to disappoint. They have so many different beverage options, from fancy mochas to sweet smoothies. If you want to try something unique one morning, or are just looking for a quick stop on your way to class, Court Street is the place to go. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you like, there is definitely something on the menu for you. And, like Frantz, you might find that you like just about everything they serve, on and off the menu.