At the risk of being banished from Portland, I have to admit that I sometimes visit my local Starbucks. In fact, I am currently drinking coffee inside its green and tan and matte black interior, fighting the urge to pull my hood over my head to avoid potential recognition. I even relocated to a less conspicuous table once it freed itself from a family of four so I can worry a little less about some acquaintance sauntering by on their way to the adjacent Fred Meyer, spotting me through the translucent window decals, and trying to avoid letting judgment simmer to the surface of their face.
Why we (Portlanders) hate Starbucks: it is corporate; the coffee is burnt, sub-par, or sucks; there’s no atmosphere; “I don’t want to support X, Y, and Z”; the baristas are too fake or unhappy or underpaid; there are so many other LOCAL places to get BETTER coffee.
Why I sometimes go to Starbucks: there are usually available seats; the coffee is…fine—not as good as local, not as bad as Dunkin Donuts; there is atmosphere: the atmosphere of neighborhood people getting coffee for the sake of getting coffee; the baristas are friendly and never-too-cool; it offers the most diverse opportunities for people-watching; it’s the only place where one can find old married couples drinking hot coffee from straws and sharing pastries in silence.
In all fairness: I did not grow up in the Northwest, so I don’t exhibit the same pretension about coffee as I do about, say, pizza. I know there is better local coffee. I know Starbucks is the Walmart of caffeine. I know when I visit I’m supporting a giant machine. Sure, the coffee is not nearly as good as the hole-in-the-wall place I usually patronize where everything is organic and the tables are made from old doors and I can doctor my beverage with agave. And I do experience a unique sense of satisfaction placing my earned (and occasionally hard-earned) money directly into the palm of the friendly faced man who built that hole-in-the-wall from scratch.
There is something raw about Starbucks. The more corporate and cookie-cutter the establishment, the more its patrons are there to satisfy only one need: the need said establishment supplies. No one goes to Starbucks because they’re supporting any concept, or seeing to be seen, or because the ambience is particularly inviting. People just want their drink. I’m sure there are regulars, but the patronage is fairly anonymous. Like a gas station. And sometimes I just want to be nobody. And everybody.