The Coffeehouse Chronicles: Episode 4

Little City Espresso Bar and Cafe

Neighborhood: Downtown

Address/Phone: 916 Congess/476-2489

Hours: Mon-Fri, 7am-midnight; Sat, 9am-mid; Sun, 9am-10pm

Munchables: Pastries, sandwiches, soup

Standard Cup o' Joe: $1.19

Bean Source: Roasted at their north location

Crowd: Downtown office folk and club crowd

Artwork: Showings by local artists

Soundtrack: The Artist Formerly Known, Morrissey, miscellaneous trance

Bonus Points: Relaxed experience of downtown after dark

The Room: If you've spent a lot of time in Austin's funky renovated coffee joints, the first thing that hits you about Little City is that everything matches. Sets of slipcovered chairs surround circular steel tables. The service countertop is a poured concrete slab, which matches the low-slung fourtops along the opposite wall. Even the stirring spoons and flatware seems to have come from the same supplier.

When Little City opened its doors in 1993, the Congress Street storefront was a more formal and sophisticated take on the coffeehouse aesthetic, located just a few blocks from the Capitol. The room's structure and interior design -- muted ochre walls with stylish furnishings and light fixtures -- set it apart from the "Austin old house" coffee joints. And since it wasn't associated with any particular residential area, the cafe pulled in a crowd of club hoppers from all across the city. With its few tables set on the busy downtown sidewalk, Little City set about serving bureaucrats and club kids alike, with different groups responding to the cafe's central location or artsy/industrial atmosphere.

Despite its more upscale feel, Little City manages to be urbane without being pretentious. It's a place that guests from San Francisco gravitate toward between rockabilly binges. The front wall is one big window, giving the Rome-yellow walls a chance to glow with natural light. Weathered wall panels from metal billboards and a 25-foot burgundy banquette provide a funky seating area toward the rear.

And in classic real estate fashion, Little City also benefits from "location, location, location" -- especially in the evenings after the state buildings have emptied for the night. After the outbound rush hour runs its course, Congress Avenue settles down and a sidewalk table provides a beautiful view of the klieg-lit Capitol dome. Just a reminder that while Austin may not be New York or San Francisco, it's good to have an urbane getaway in the center of our own little city. --Pableaux Johnson

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