Huzzah! There’s a new coffee shop in Downtown PTL! ((Because that’s exactly what I need – yet another place to feed my addiction)) The new place is called “Bard,” and it’s a surprisingly nice place. The interior is bright, there’s tons of seating, and the baristas have both personality AND smiles (something that may occasionally be lacking in my other coffee shops of choice). Bard is located on the fringes of Tommy’s Park – also known as the Emo Teen Clubhouse – but doesn’t feel like it’s on the edge of the sketchiest 200 square yards in downtown Portland. The inside is all warm creams and browns that really make it feel like a coffee shop out of Harvard Square.
Outside of the aesthetics there are some other important things about the shop that you should know about. The prices aren’t that bad. Within fifteen store fronts in any direction are about six other cafes. All the prices for a regular ol’ cup of coffee are $2 – give or take a dime. The sweets are a little bit on the pricey side, but having had a caramel and peanut butter cup with a circumference rivaling that of a CD, I can attest that the prices are well worth it!
Besides high quality sweets and coffee, there are a couple other perks. There are at least three cafes within spitting distance that have wi-fi (for the sake of argument I am including Arabica as “within spitting distance”), but Starbucks charges for it and it can be tough to find a seat at Arabica or JavaNet anytime after noon. Bard not only has free wi-fi, but also ample seating – though that could change as word spreads. There are three different kinds of seating – typical cafe style tables (two or three chairs at a dainty table), there are four tops which will be conducive to studying students, and there are couches for folks wanting to stop in for a leisurely chat with friends.
Perhaps most telling about Bard, however, is that for all the sophistication of the coffee and coffee drinks, the bar itself is incredibly simple. It doesn’t take up too much space – it’s about halfway in between the size of the bars at JavaNet and Arabica, yet has the full array of tools to treat coffee right. Coolest is the “Brew Bar.” This is where they make regular old drip coffee. Except that there is no “old” about it. Instead of mass producing a gallon or two of coffee at a time, only freshening it when it runs out, every cup of coffee is individually brewed. Using a cone filter placed over the cup, the barista then pours boiling water over the grounds of freshly ground beans. The coffee I got today, Sumatra, is a roast that tends to be over-brewed in Portland (I can’t speak for beyond the peninsula, though I imagine it’s not treated well there, either). It’s a shame, because it’s the roast that introduced me to good coffee and is a roast that I love. However, the way Bard roasts their beans and brews their coffee, the Sumatra actually tasted light. There was no bitter, syrupy taste or feel to it. I didn’t even need to lace it with sugar to make it palatable. As Goldilocks would say, “It was just right.”
Alas, one of the coolest features is also its principle drawback. As wonderful as the Brew Bar is, it means that Bard is never going to be my “OMG I NEED COFFEE NOWWWWWWW” cafe. The coffee took about five minutes to drip (and I was the only one in line, what if there was a queue?!). That means that by the time I get through line, get my coffee and get out, we’re looking at a ten, fifteen minute wait – aka a good deal longer than a nickel buys me in the meter. However, now that I find myself with mornings off, the combination of astounding coffee, free wi-fi, and comfortable seating may be too much for this kid to resist. As Justin Henry points out here, “Arabica has long been [the] gold standard for coffee” in-town. And Arabica will probably still continue to be my go-to coffee shop (their French Roast est muy bueno!), but as long as there’s a chair at Bard, my loyalties for specialty coffee may be shifting!
Added 4/22/09: Bard officially has the best vanilla latte I have had on Peninsula. As opposed to other shops in town where you take a sip and it’s “why hello vanilla syrup,” you take a sip at Bard and it’s “why hello non-bitter coffee and subtle vanilla overtones.” A good latte can be a rarity, I’m going to take advantage of this whenever I can!
An additional addendum, the artwork in here is absolutely incredible. The artists are Sarah Bartlett and Douglas Bailey. Even if you hate coffee (which I’m sorry if you do), it’s worth coming in to see the artwork.