Athens’ favorite bakery

 

Village Bakery and Cafe

Nestled back on the corner of Alexander and West State Street,  with only a few parking spots, The Village Bakery and Cafe can be easy to miss if you’re not looking, but locals and students alike know this place very well.

While I think most places in Athens are unique, the Village Bakery and Cafe, is unlike any other place in our community, making it so loved and known to the community. Upon walking into the cafe, you’re greeted with an overwhelming smell of fresh bread, bright colors, and swarms of people that equal out to be much larger than the amount of parking. That’s how I know this is a favorite place-when you can barely find place to sit down. I’ve spent a lot of time here before, but when visiting to write this piece, I tried extra hard to soak up everything the bakery has to offer.

Bulletin boards fill the wall with local events, slogans, photos and local advertisements. One catches my eye that just says, “Socialism”, next to one from a student looking for work walking dogs. That’s what makes this place what it is: the mix of the unique community together in one place.

I come here for the food, like many others. With a limited amount of quick vegetarian and vegan options on Court Street, I come here for quick veggie frittatas, salads and pastries that I know will be fresh. To be as accurate and honest as possible for this article, I made sure I ordered a fair spread of food on this particular trip. I order the Karma, made with in-house bread, pesto and then topped with veggies. I also ordered their daily soup special, Tofu Curry and just to be safe, a raw, vegan Coconut and Blueberry ball, along with a cup of coffee, that’s also roasted locally in Athens.

Raw Coconut Blueberry balls
Tofu Curry soup
The Karma

The Village Bakery pride’s itself on creating their unique food by using local products and vendors, as well as growing their own food. Right now they are using products from over 15 vendors across the state of Ohio, and bring in new vendors each year to continue to grow. They also have their vendors locations’ painted on their walls.

Local, Christina Matzin says that not only is the food here good, but the “organization is run on some pretty respectable values”, making this one of her favorite spots in town.

Solar, wind, and geothermal are a few types sustainable energy sources that work behind the scenes to keep this bakery running. To accompany the bright, mismatching dishes, the walls are filled with hand painted slogans. “GeoThermal” is one that sits high above the pastry case, painted right on the air duct; representing the bakery’s efforts and pride in creating a place that’s not only welcoming, but also kind to the environment.

 

 

The Village Bakery’s tie to the community doesn’t stop at pastries and clean energy though. Their local grocery and fair trade gift section is another way they help to pull the community together, and help the local economy. Here, you can find a selection of wines from local vineyards, a small freezer of local grocery items and handmade gifts, jellies, syrups and more scattered around the bakery.

 

Owners, Christine and Bob took their passion for community and their success at the Village Bakery and opened up a second cafe on the other side of town. Just down the road from Larry’s Dawg House on Union St., the Catalyst Cafe, is a short bike ride from campus, and overlooks the Hocking River. The cafe opened less than 10 years ago to continue to bring delicious local products to the Athens community.

The two-story cafe offers a view of Athens like you can’t find anywhere else. Here you can find a few of the breakfast pastries offered at the Village Bakery, but at Catalyst. the main focus is on their locally roasted coffee, Italian Sodas, and smoothies. 

I opted for an Italian Creme Soda made with vanilla and almond, and a chocolate meringue cookie on my first trip to the Catalyst Cafe.

 

Student Phil Burdyn says he comes to the cafe to study, but his favorite part about the set of cafe’s “is their contribution to the local economy and the environment.”

Home for music and weirdos, I mean The Smiling Skull not my boyfriend’s house

Cheap beer, live music, and no ID requirements at the door. It’s basically what broke college student dreams are made of. While it may not be a gem to many the Smiling Skull Saloon is definitely a remarkable part of Athens.

Athens has a large music scene and The Skull is one of the many locations used as a venue to book shows for local and other up-and-coming musicians. Shows at the Skull tend to be more punk rock oriented with the occasional bluegrass band. This is only my second year at Ohio University but I’ve been able to see numerous bands at this small dive bar alone.

The crowds at shows tend to get very rowdy, especially after a night filled with drinking. Last year New York punk band, Bbig Pigg, was wrapping up the show for the night as last call approached. I was hoping to stay until the very end of show but during one of their songs a member of the audience stole the microphone from the vocalist. The microphone thief then smashed his beer bottle onto the ground. Shards of glass flew all over the place and I was so excited I didn’t realize some of the pieces cut my legs and were stuck to my clothing.

Love
Graffiti wall inside the women’s restroom

In”Smiling Skull Saloon a sanctuary for students and townies alike,” Emily Bohatch captures the essence of the bar. She said the usage of old license plates and photos hanging on the walls as decoration of bar “embodies a sense of tradition and home.”

The vintage posters and photos hung around the walls surrounded by graffiti are what make the Skull some kind of time machine for me. Even though the bar is only 16 years old the graffiti is a sobering reminder that I’m only going to be here for four years. I should enjoy it just like everyone else who left their mark somewhere in the bar.

The decorations are not the only thing that make the bar remarkable for me. It’s also the people I’ve met and stories I’ve learned. There’s always an interesting mix of patrons which make up of bikers, ‘townies’, and college students.

The most interesting to talk to have always been the older crowd of bikers and ‘townies’ because they always have a story to tell about “back in the day” and you can see how people’s eyes light up when reminiscing.

One of the most notable characters I’ve met has been Santa. A tall, older man with a beard that reaches his belly who sits by the door greeting people. There hasn’t been a night in which he isn’t filled with jokes and compliments.

Everyone in Athens has a bar that they prefer, and the Skull is definitely it for me. Many people I’ve met are usually not too excited about the idea of going to a dive bar at first but it’s an experience they end up enjoying. The Skull stands out and is unique, just like its patrons.

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.

donkeycoffee.com 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.