As we walked in, I immediately noticed the shop’s clean, indie-inspired typography. You know the kind. Something that could come right off of the Hipster Branding Tumblr blog. But it seemed promising enough and the crisp smell of roasted coffee beans pulled us in. It was hip and kicked-back, plastered with white wood and cement floors. It was a cooling spot.
Yet, feeling the weight of my backpack on my shoulders, I quickly realized it wasn’t a place to get anything done. It was loud and the lighting seemed stark; there were a handful of cramped, small tables on one side of the shop; everything about it felt tense. It was a place to get coffee and leave. It was not a place to stick around.
When I travel as a part-time nomad there are very few spaces that satisfy my (seemingly typical) prerequisites for getting work done. And when it comes to getting work done, I actually mean getting work done.
Mid-level, comfortable music. Numerous wall or floor outlets. (At least) somewhat comfortable seating. Friendly baristas. Food or snacks to tack on bonus points. Tasty beverages help, too.
Twenty seconds later Dan and I looked at each other and walked out. From there we referenced our trusted partner, the Yelp! app, to deliver us to the closest highly rated coffee shop.
We spun our freshly rented Fiat around the corner and caught glimpse of where we’d arrived: Young Hickory on 30th and Polk, in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. Its exterior glistened and welcomed us with 2 garage doors fully upright.
As I walked in—actually, as I approached—I recognized how the entire experience here was built upon a particular atmosphere. From the cute sign in the window to the weathered and distressed flooring; from the delicately crafted chalkboard menu to the reclaimed tables, lighting, and wall stickers.
Upon approaching the counter I noticed a sign that read “No Haters Allowed” set with a no-nonsensical coastal vibe. Hey, man, just chill out and enjoy.
Espresso, beer, breakfast, lunch, and panini varieties adorned the menu. Music was grooving: from Little People to El Ten Eleven to Washed Out. It was definitely hip, but in the best of ways. Youthful, without the pretentious overtones. There’s no time for that here.
When I travel, I often long to find a place as designed and as carefully put together as Young Hickory. There is a subtle feeling of home, of comfort, that greets you and keeps you there for a little longer.
In this case, I opened a tab and stayed a while. Iced latte with almond milk; breakfast eggs and bacon; a romaine wedge with fruit for lunch; a late afternoon craft beer. I chose my table, I walked the floor, I talked with a dear friend on Skype for over an hour, and I made the space my own. And everyone was cool with that, because, everyone was doing the same thing. Their thing.
In a world where the idea of food service industry comfort manifests in so many different ways—distressed flooring, clean typography, cool-kids music—it’s always refreshing to actually feel what it is the space was meant to be, rather than hoping to feel what it is the space is trying so desperately to be. This is an important distinction.
On that day, design and working in the experience of design, was taken up a level. I found a place that fit my vibe and my culture. And I experienced a living, breathing form of art without hesitation and without even trying.
For me, this is unnoticed design: a painting I simply adore, a piece of music I instinctively love, or, in this case, a coffee shop in a distant town with foreign but friendly faces that brings forth solace.
This article appeared in a modified format on AIGA Colorado’s website.