1 Rendez Vous Café
The only coffee shop for miles with a threatening warning that they I.D., Rendez Vous Café on South University Avenue adds hookah to the usual caffeinated lineup. Just a block away from language-intensive Residential College in East Quad and acting as an impromptu office for more than one language tutor, Rendez Vous, open late, emits a European feel, even if most patrons have trouble conjugating their Spanish verbs.
A haven for the both the very hip – skinny jeans, scarves, dyed hair and glasses with thick plastic rims abound – as well as downright hippies, the retro atmosphere and intellectual conversation won’t disappoint, even if the falafels do.
2 Café Ambrosia
Ed Renollet, owner of Café Ambrosia, acknowledges the clientele as “a pretty eclectic crowd,” if not a pretty eccentric one.
He tries to cultivate a reputation as the “grad student café,” he says, and he’s met considerable success. The people who sit in Ambrosia look older than the typical Amer’s crowd, unless they look younger – some local high school students have taken to sitting out front, and it seems that people sport longer hair and carry around more esoteric novels than they do at Starbucks.
If Ambrosia doesn’t attract ordinary West Quad residents, it might be because the café is a little out of the ordinary. Renollet himself was a non-traditional student, taking classes at the University in 2001, the year after he got to Ann Arbor. The year after that, he started the coffee shop. And this week, he says he’s opening up seating in the basement of the shop, which he renovated himself with the help his father.
3 Espresso Royale
So you’re not into gourmet coffee, you’re not alternative enough for one of the independent coffee shops and you don’t really want a mozzarella salad with your latte – you just might be an Espresso Royale customer.
Without being quite as straight-laced as Starbucks, Expresso Royale attracts a crowd that’s not generic, but that’s not exactly rebellious either. So if your professor holds his office hours at Expresso Royale instead of Ambrosia, Amer’s or Rendez Vous, it might be a sign that you should turn that paper in on time and come to class sober.
Amer’s Mediterranean Deli
So it’s not Zingerman’s. But with fewer noisy children, more available seating, shorter lines and an on-campus location, it’s a viable alternative, even if the cappuccinos aren’t quite the same.
In 1993, Zingerman’s sued Amer’s for ripping off its style. At the time, the Daily ran the headline, “Zingerman’s takes its beef with Amer’s to federal district court.” The claims proved to be without much merit, and today Amer’s ratty, comfortable feel is a far cry from the finicky Zingerman’s service and its burgeoning food empire.
With fairly reliable wireless internet, Amer’s is a hub for the studious, and its unkempt backroom and lower level suggest that the maintenance staff is almost as laid back as the clientele.
5 Starbucks Coffee
No one thinks Starbucks is just a coffee shop. You can get coffee anywhere; in Ann Arbor, you can get good coffee most anywhere. Like nearly every other city in America, Starbucks has tightened its stranglehold on café culture in the city.
Despite their liberal leanings and organic tendencies, not as many Ann Arborites have boycotted the megachain, as you might expect. Of course, it’s not exactly a haven for East Quad professors, either.
LSA professors, maybe. You’re more likely to see people here reading Machiavelli than Marx. A retreat for quick meetings and chemistry homework, the immaculate furniture gives Starbucks that refreshingly not-counterculture feel you can find in only a few shops in Ann Arbor. Just remember to tip: Starting Starbucks employees get $7.20 per hour, meaning they make only 5 cents more than starting employees at Amer’s, where the seats are held together with duct tape.