Donkey Coffee: a refreshing alternative to corporate cafés

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.

At Donkey Coffee, you can add a dash of politics to your fair-trade coffee

“Would you like a side of politics with that?”

Athens, Ohio is abundant in businesses that mix their service to customers with political discourse. From Avalanche Pizza’s caricatures of presidential candidates to Little Fish’s “No Fracking Way” beer brewed with all Ohio ingredients, Southeast Ohioans are accustomed to seeing politics on the menu.

A politically-minded Athens business that stands out to me is Donkey Coffee, who stirs a little social justice into your otherwise average cup of fair-trade joe. Donkey continues to be a leading coffee joint in Athens not only for their comfy couches and cozy ambiance, but because of their devotion to community outreach and promotion of political discourse.

Their website bares a list of organizations who they support that “fundamentally positively influence people.” The list includes groups such as Amnesty International, Fair Trade USA, Pregnancy Resource Center and My Sisters Place. continues:

“We are committed to promoting social justice and the arts in our community and throughout the world through public awareness, serving, and financial giving. This is the heart of what Donkey is about.”

They took their loyalty to the enrichment of the community one step further this week by having customers rattle off their favorite part of the Constitution in trade for a drink on the house.

Yesterday, Donkey Coffee started the work week by observing an all-American event that took place on September 17, 1787. Baristas celebrated the signing of the Constitution by trading a customer’s favorite constitutional right for a free coffee drink.

This was a part of Donkey’s recent “Free Drink Monday” event.  After I recited Article 1 Section 3 of the Constitution (which provides some much-needed accountability to Congress), Michael, one of the baristas, told me the story of the couple that inspired the weekly freebie.

You can thank two Donkey frequenters Steve and Janet for your free power chai latte each Monday. Michael said the couple were such loyal customers that they accrued upwards of 4,000 points on their Donkey Coffee rewards card. Each drink equals one point (and after 10 points, you receive a free drink) so you can definitely say they were regulars.

Haley McKelvey enjoys a mocha latte during a exhausting study session on the second floor of Donkey Coffee.
Haley McKelvey enjoys a mocha latte during a exhausting study session on the second floor of Donkey Coffee.

They never spent their points and eventually moved out of town, so they donated the thousands of points to the customers of Donkey. So each week, Donkey asks their customers to recite a poem about Donkey Coffee, or dance for 10 seconds or like yesterday, share their favorite constitutional right of theirs, to use Steve and Janet’s donation.

Donkey continues to be my go-to spot to sip on an iced latte over statistics homework, not only for their plentitude of power outlets and couches, but because you might get into an interesting discussion over the patriarchy or systemic racism with your barista.

And has anyone else thought about the fact that the name of their coffee shop just so happens to be the symbol of a major political party? Maybe it’s just me.

Regardless of political preference, Athenians will continue to get their coffee fix from Donkey for years to come.



A Designated Space for Exploration

The cozy, windowless back room of Donkey Coffee and Espresso is warmly lit. The current decor of paintings of birds accents the eggshell walls and dark wood paneling. On most evenings, you’ll find this section filled with friends snuggling on couches, people buried in computer assignments, people on first dates and folks curled up on cozy chairs reading and writing for pleasure.

This warm, inviting haven is a fitting location for creative expression, and every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. it transforms into an open mic for reading poetry, essays, and narratives. Sometimes people even showcase performance art. This weekly session holds the fitting title of Designated Space, a home for poets new and old to gather and share their art.

I would be lying if I said that every poet who climbs onto that stage and takes the mic on a Tuesday night is good. Not everyone can be Maya Angelou, after all. On the other hand, it takes real bravery to share such personal art, and seeing people share, regardless of the topic or quality of content, is inspiring.

Regulars present new work like they would present their prized possession or a younger sibling. Olivia Cobb, an English major, began her set with a new poem. “I just wrote this one a few days ago,” she said. “I can’t wait to share my baby with you.”

The beauty of Designated Space is that it showcases a mix of regulars and pop-in poets, people who have been religiously pouring their work out every week since they discovered the weekly event juxtaposed with people who had no idea that Designated Space was even a thing—they just happened to be in the room when it started.

Allman performs an original piece at Designated Space.
Allman performs an original piece at Designated Space.

One such performer was Bobby Walker, a junior studying women, gender and sexuality studies. “I didn’t even know this was a thing until it started happening two hours ago,” they chuckled. Walker treated the audience to a piece read in their Guyanese accent, an accent they often choose to Americanize because they feel self-conscious. It was a special window into their personal world and upbringing, insight not provided but the casual passing conversations we have with strangers and acquaintances.

While some simply read at the microphone, others choose a more complex performance. Griffin Allman is a freshman studying integrated media. His readings were performed with intense energy, and at points he grabbed his hair, threw his arms out and nearly broke into a shout. Allman is a prize-winning member of OHIO’s Forensics Team.

Kara Guyton, the usual host of Designated Space and a senior studying commercial photography was unable to host the whole event, but she popped in at the end of the night to read some of her favorite poems about animals. Guyton was charming and funny, interspersing her humor between serious poems. Her voice was soothing and inviting, and her readings of two Charles Wright pieces entranced the audience wholly.

Over the course of the two hours, 16 people read poetry. Some chose to read original pieces, others read from poets past, while others chose to talk about everything from depression to self-exploration to vaginas to missing old lovers.

When I returned home to pick out my favorite bits of tape and outline this article, I couldn’t help but feel the pull to come back next week and explore the spoken word that fills the cozy back room with life every Tuesday.