It was over a sweet-and-creamed ice coffee in the middle of an Orlando summer, squashed comfortably between a detached movie theater seat and a worn checkerboard table that I got to know Alex.
Austin’s Coffee Shop and Film set the stage. Both of us avid antique shoppers with a flair for the highbrow/lowbrow vibe of the Downtown Orlando scene, we wandered into Austin’s without any idea what to expect and found a hipster haven inside. I hardly knew Alex, yet over the thrumming thump of indie rock and some rockin’ coffee at prices far better than Starbucks, we became friends. (Our mutual love of vintage dresses and tea gloves may have also been helpful.)
It is impossible to describe the few hours we spent in Austin’s without using the word ‘hipster,’ or other common jargon. It was an eclectic scene—mismatched chairs and couches, movie theater cushions, and straight wooden chairs were everywhere. There was an immediate ‘anything-goes’ feel about the place. The inhabitants were of the distinct and unusual variety, nearly all of them with beards, some with braids, many with laptops. Outside of the seemingly small café, a few guys in black t-shirts with goatees and guitars blew rings of smoke into the steaming Orlando air.
The benches and chairs were filled unusual people whose stories could be anybody’s guess. At least three of them were sleeping. Others had ear buds in, or looked supremely busy playing online games. It was, to say the least, a college hangout with few rules, a distinctly ‘chill’ atmosphere.
“What can I get for you?” the girl behind the counter asked. Alex and I looked at each other, then back at the menu.
“Can we have a minute?” Alex asked, the girl shrugged nonchalantly, telling us to holler when we were ready.
In the back of the café, between the bathrooms covered in graffiti and song lyrics (the women’s restroom boasting a loud I AM FEMALE, HEAR ME ROAR! in silver sharpie on the towel dispenser), a dude in a ponytail casually stroked a loaded paintbrush against the wall. A mural of a forest pathway began to emerge from the brown and green paint.
A few feet away, whitewashed shelves held stacks of old board games, from yellowing Monopoly sets to Trivial Pursuit, Uno and Parcheesi. Beside those, stacks of books on random subjects and CD’s of every imaginable variety lay in wait. It looked like the contents of a garage sale left to the honor system.
We settled on the barista’s favorite drink—sweet iced coffee, served in an eco-friendly plastic cup. The ice cubes were perfectly square, clinking against each other as if in agreement—this was the best coffee to swim in. Twice the size of a Starbuck’s ‘tall,’ the coffee was half the price as twice as delicious. The atmosphere added to the enjoyment significantly.
We settled in the center of the coffee shop, Alex perching on a strightbacked wooden chair painted in rainbow colors as I tumbled into a movie-theater seat with a tendency to lean too far backwards. We carried on a conversation this way for a long time, until the ice in our drinks had melted and the Orlando sun had been replaced by rain.
We made plans to come back again, to tuck our cars away in the tiny backlot and spend a few overnight hours studying or playing board games in the relaxed, almost grungy atmosphere. A tad rebellious, even edgy, offset by the comfortable seating and disregard for any particular demographic, Austin’s felt comfortable and relaxed. The unusual slices of pie and sandwiches on mismatched glass plates, wrapped securely in plastic lay crookedly in the case, a sight that should have been off-putting and yet somehow looked appetizing.
For anyone trying to get past their millionth Starbucks here in Orlando, or just looking for a hipster place to crash and swill joe, this is the spot!
Now you know!