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Friday, January 8, 2016

Farley's East: In Search of a Local Coffee Shop That Doesn't Smack of Hipsterdom

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge Farley's gibraltar
  • Farley's gibraltar

I recently returned from a three-week stay in the Midwest. For those of you who can't fathom why anyone would willingly spend time in the windy nothingness and freezing-cold tundra of the Great Plains in the winter, let me assure you that you don't know what you're missing out on.

Despite the fact that northwestern Iowa — where I spent my undergraduate career and all of last weekend — does not offer much in the way of foodie culture (or winter produce), it is home to The Old Factory Coffee Shop, an unassuming local gem that couples Midwestern friendliness and community with a California-worthy commitment to local seasonal ingredients and damn-good — er, darn-good — coffee.

click to enlarge Look at that carpet. Nothing says comfy like carpet.
  • Look at that carpet. Nothing says comfy like carpet.

On my return to the Bay Area, I set out to find a suitable Old Factory substitute, thinking that Oakland of all cities would provide a plentitude of places that served quality coffee and legit food without putting on airs. I was also hunting for a place that played decent music and offered free wifi, a comfortable workspace, and working toilets. All of that is to say, I was on a quest for a "please stay" atmosphere, which was surprisingly difficult to find, even after factoring out the "ample-free-parking" feature that you'll find just about anywhere in the Midwest.

I chalk up my ignorance of local coffee shops to spending one-too-many months drinking crappy coffee with the masses at Starbucks (which I blame on a stack of gift cards from former employers and a loyalties program that rewards me with stars for feeding an addiction). That being said, I still found it surprisingly difficult to locate a work-from-home space where I could both order a gibraltar and spend the whole day in my gym clothes.

click to enlarge This is the view of someone who wants to people-watch.
  • This is the view of someone who wants to people-watch.

Thank God for Farley's East. Local coffee, ample seating, decent people, and an approachable offering of interesting food items, including a fennel chocolate bread pudding and a roasted turkey and avocado sandwich. Premium pastries and pour-over coffee is pretty par for the course in the Bay Area. The combination of third-wave caliber coffee and a cozy cafe ambience is a little more difficult to find. Farley's is the sort of place where you can peruse free reading material or play borrowed board games. There's no pretense to the way things are done, though things appear to be done remarkably well.

click to enlarge img_5265.jpg.jpeg

A string of over-worn swivelchairs lines the far end of the upstairs dining area. I found this to be the perfect place to people-watch under the guise of looking like I was working (having a laptop open is a really good way to look like you're working). There are even outdoor tables and chairs on a patch of green astro-turf, hoping for that day when it finally stops raining.

click to enlarge This sign tells me all I need to know about the character of this coffee shop.
  • This sign tells me all I need to know about the character of this coffee shop.

It's difficult to replicate the atmosphere of a place like The Old Factory Coffee Shop, where you can leave your car unlocked and your wallet on the counter, but Farley's seems to make an attempt toward a Midwestern brand of friendly acceptance. The man next to me did trust me to oversee the safety of his iPhone 4 and a Kinesiology book. I may have just found a new place to write in my pajamas.

Farley's East, 33 Grand Ave., 510-835-7898.

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A. K. Carroll

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