24-Hour Coffee Shop Plays Winning Combination
Strange Brew's all-access ethos
Strange Brew5326 Manchaca, 512/828-7636
Open 24 hours
Not too far south off Ben White on Manchaca Road, the 24-hour coffee shop Strange Brew has doubled in size, taking over a good deal of the nondescript strip mall that it occupies. Night and day, the ample parking lot is usually pretty full of Strange Brew's aficionados, because Strange Brew has solved the central problem of coffee customer expectations: Is a coffee shop supposed to be a place to gather, or a place to be alone? Musical and literary, or a silent place where you can concentrate? Strange Brew has solved this conflict by physically expanding to encompass it all.
The southernmost room is a viable, inviting performance venue, suitable not only for readings but for live music. It is such a welcoming space, and booked so adeptly, that fairly big names like Ian Moore, Jon Dee Graham, Van Wilks, Seela, and even Christopher Cross gig there. Every Sunday, a rousing gospel brunch is featured. Next to the "Lounge" (as it is called) is a room containing the counter and diminutive kitchen where espresso drinks and sandwiches are made to order. Pastries and pies from Upper Crust Bakery and Quack's are sold from display cases, as are bottled beer and other beverages.
The next two rooms to the north are quiet rooms for studying, writing, surfing the net, and subdued conversation. The walls are hung with quite respectable art and the music from the Lounge can just barely be discerned. Behind Strange Brew's section of strip mall is a large secluded patio area with tables, chairs, ashtrays, sun canopies, a tiny strip of grass, and neighborhood dogs with their people.
The food at Strange Brew is just about as good as it can be, given that what the staff has to work with is one panini press and an espresso machine. The menu lists a great many creative coffee drinks and an abundance of teas; the cappuccinos and iced lattes are well-made, strong without bitterness, and right on target. The eight signature panini sandwiches are made to order with fresh ingredients and are miles ahead of typical bar food; the Hippy Sandwich, made with fresh tomato, roasted peppers, and provolone cheese, is a standout ($6). Torchy's Tacos are served during the gospel brunch as well. Once you add being open 24 hours a day to this spot's other attributes – the excellent music, solid food, coffee, beer, quiet space, and neighborhood hangout status – it is little wonder Strange Brew has developed a very happening scene.