Greetings from the great midwest, where I am officially the guest scholar on a bustling college campus, with an office and a dorm room and a classroom and students and a paycheck and everything!
One of the up-sides to a residential gig like this is that I can block out a lot of writing time, and I am taking decided advantage of that, with themed playacting and sprints and new coffeehouses and libraries and other writing venues.
But first, let me tell you about some of the back-home writing venues….
What did I do this autumn, besides consume cider doughnuts and NaNo the fuck outa shit? Yes, the Quest for a Local Writing Spot Cafe continued. I lugged books, untangled computer cords, sipped mochas and teas and hot chocolates, and continued to see what Boston has to offer us caffinated, writerly folks. Time for…
Caffe Nero, multiple locations
Yes, it was pure UK-homesickness that brought me here. Admittedly, when I was actually IN England, I wasn’t too fond of Caffe Nero. While they will always hold a sentimental spot in my heart as the site where, in 2009, I finished my first novel in many years sitting at one on a trip to London, generally I didn’t care for their drinks, and they were usually always cluttery, crowded, and chaotic. But the familiar blues and browns of the facade drew me in to the Congress St. location one afternoon, and I was pleased to see that the food offerings were fresh-looking, the bathroom was clean, and the tables were spacious. I settled in with a tea for a pleasant afternoon.
A few weeks later, I found myself at the one in Washington Square, and, while it was a little more crowded, this one actually boasted a crackling fireplace. What a cozy place to hang out and write!
Admittedly, their drinks still aren’t my favorite, but the US version is much better than the UK ones, so that’s something. People are friendly, and the prices aren’t insane. And yes, much like my slightly-guilty trips to Wagamama’s for steamed buns, when I am feeling particularly blue missing the UK, it is wonderful to be embraced by its familiarity. Boston’s Caffe Nero locations stay on the list, for sure!
Trident Cafe*, 338 Newbury St, Boston
If ever there was THE spot in Boston for writers, this place is it. It is, indeed, one of the best bookstores I’ve been to, and there is a big, often crowded cafe downstairs. However, recently, I discovered that there is another cafe/restaurant space upstairs, and sometimes even when the obvious one is filled to overflowing with people brunching, the upstairs one is a little less insane.
Much as I like Trident Books, I am routinely… well, underwhelmed by the food and drink offerings. It’s not so expensive that you feel like you’re getting completely ripped off or anything, but it’s pretty fair-to-middling for the prices. And most hours, it feels more like a restaurant with high table turnover than a place where you should camp out with your laptop… although in lulls, there’s definitely that going on.
But I cannot say this enough: the people there are AWESOME. It’s filled with writers and students and bibliophiles, and there is always someone who can recommend stuff or will talk excitedly with you about a book or author… a few of whom actually work/shop there regularly. (I fully admit I enjoy going there and making sure friends’ books are stocked AND faced out, and am extra gleeful when I see them in featured spots!)
So I guess for me, this is more a spot to shop than to settle in and write for hours and hours.
*Note: they had a fire at the end of Feb., and are temporarily closed, but will be opened again soon.
Explorateur, 186 Tremont St, Boston
One morning, when my husband got to work, he texted me “I think I’ve found a writing spot you’ll like,” so, a few days later, I made it a point to check out the spot he’d stopped at on the way to work, and see for myself.
The location is perfect: At the corner of the Common with lovely views, nestled next to Emerson College, this cafe is a new-ish spot in an old Masonic lodge… complete with a library and relics and stuff, including, supposedly, a lock of George Washington’s hair! (And I’m particularly pleased that there are links to the Alcotts and Bronson Alcott’s Temple School just down the block.) There’s a T stop right across the way, so even in the worst weather, it’s just a quick dash across the street to get there
But that was just the beginning of my love for Explorateur. The inside is stunning (see: Masonic lodge), with both big, common tables (with lights and plugs) and smaller ones scattered around. There’s a dedicated restaurant area if you want a meal at a grown-up table. It has a very student-y vibe, which makes me comfortable. The servers and baristas are super nice, the hot drinks delish, and the baked goods superlative. And that long table in the middle has a lot of outlets, and the wireless is reliable.
The kitchen shuts down between lunch and dinner, but the up side is sometimes they’ll let you sit at the empty tables to work if it’s crowded in the cafe area.
After just two trips, me and my local pals from school decided that yeah, this is the spot! Writing group now has an official meeting place. Yay!
Max Brenner, 745 Boylston St, Boston
So, when I last lived in Philadelphia about seven-ish years ago, Max Brenner was my local writing spot there. Sure, the wacky “Chocolate by the Bald Man” Willy-Wonka-in-Wonderland place didn’t seem like the best place to hang out and write. There were often noisy groups of kids, and the music was loud, the decor purposefully garish.
But the hot chocolate was GORGEOUS. So, after the lunch rush died down, and the place emptied out, I found that a corner table with multiple dark chocolate mochas was enough to fuel me for a 2000-word sprint.
I went to the Boston location a couple of times after they opened, too, but it was never quite the same as the Philly one… and over the years, it’s not gotten better. Still, with hope (and yes, characteristic nostalgia), I recently headed over to the spot right by the Boston Marathon’s finish line, and was pleased to see they even had an expansive table for camping out.
But over time, the quality has gone down. The hot chocolate is still good and all, but not with the meticulous detail of flavor and texture that it used to have. This location doesn’t have convenient plugs. The bathrooms aren’t as clean as they could be. The servers are… fine, but not anything special. It’s just a place that feels past its prime. Tragically, I’ve had that experience when I go back to the Philly one, too, but not as much as here.
Guess I’ll fill up my “hug mug” at home with my own hot chocolate… and head back to Explorateur!