Sunday, March 30, 2008

Using Asheville coffee shops as a remote office

Picture via Ashe-villain

If you live in Asheville and work from home for a large part of your work week - like I do - you may find you occasionally need to re-enter civilization to maintain sanity. I do this using coffee shops. I have a few favorites. Do you use coffee shops as a "remote office" at times?

Here are my favorites:

Located on Biltmore Avenue just down the hill from the Orange Peel. "The Drip" has more of everything I look for in a remote office.

Parking: Free parking (if you can get a spot).
Lot of nooks and crannies: The shop is large enough that you can remain fairly anonymous.
Computer Friendly: There are multiple tables and no shortage of electrical outlets.
Drink Quality: The coffee drinks are superb. Make sure and get their frequent visitor card to cash in on free drinks every so often.
Internet Access: Easy and anonymous connection to the internet.
Budget Friendly: $2 French Presses with a bean of your choice.
Other Stuff: Super clean bathrooms. Friendly staff.

Internet Access: Halfway through 2007 they put a two-hour cap on Internet access. This caused problems for me when I ordered lunch, initiated a firfox download, worked on a proposal for two hours and then was supposed to meet with a client there to go over it - but alas - no Internet access. FTP Port is blocked as well. (Update: Edgy Mama says the 2-hour cap has been lifted!)
Parking: Yes parking is a pro (because it's free) and a con - because it is often hard to find a spot. There's just no pleasing some people! ;-)

Final Thoughts on Dripolator Asheville:
My number one pick in almost every situation - unless I need FTP or more than two hours.

This one is almost my #1 pick, as the drinks are every bit as good as Dripolator (maybe better) in the Asheville coffee world. But there are a couple things that keep it "just" behind "The Drip" in the Remote Office category.

Internet Access: Unlimited Internet with no 2 hour limit. Reliable and fast connection.
Drink Quality: Phenomenal drinks. True artisans of handcrafted coffee drinks.
Other Stuff: Super cool staff. More bohemian crowd than The Drip. Very clean bathrooms.

Parking: Metered parking (or park in one of the Garages).
Other Stuff: Very small space - hard to remain anonymous and out of sight. Could use some more electrical outlets.
Internet Access: FTP ports blocked.

Final thoughts on Izzy's:
I love Izzy's - if I go out and don't have to work Izzy's is my #1 choice. It's the closest thing to the old BeanStreets I can get.

This was the place I used to go to all the time, and I rarely do anymore. I used to like to sit in the window right when it opened and plan my day, do a few small jobs, respond to emails, and so forth.

Other Stuff: It's an independent book store dammit! If there's anything to put me in brainiac mode it is grabbing a latte in a book store and sitting down with my laptop to crank stuff out. Large tables.
Drink Quality: Better than average, but not better than Dripolator or Izzy's.

Laptop Friendly: The bar at the window is now filled with computer stations, so regular laptop guys like me can no longer sit there. Not enough wall plugs to plug in and work. Spotty internet connectivity - thankfully there are some rogue networks to connect to as well as the downtown Wi-Fi.
Parking: Metered parking (or park in one of the Garages).

Mountain Java - Merrimon
Apparently these were franchise stores (Port City Java) that recently became "un-franchised" - if there is such a word. In other words they are now independent coffee shops. There are a few locations in WNC but I have primarily visited the one on Merrimon.

Facilities: Large, well-lit shop. Plenty of large tables for laptops. It's close to UNCA (the Merrimon shop) so they seem to be used to people coming in and doing homework on their laptops. Very welcoming in that respect.
Parking: Free parking in their parking lot.

Internet Access: I always seem to have trouble logging on quickly.
Drink Quality: The drinks are only slightly above average. I don't feel the same sense of "passion" for good drinks that I feel when I go to The Drip or Izzy's or even Malaprops.

Final Thoughts on Mountain Java:
It has all the right parts, but something is missing and I'm not sure what it is.

Starbucks - Charlotte Street
I know I know ... how dare I mention Starbucks in a group of independent coffee shops. Starbucks does have some redeeming qualities, however.

Business Hours: Seems like they are always open. Late at night too. Great for emergency stops.
Drink Quality: Consistently above average drinks. Some will argue with me on this but if you've ever been in the middle of nowhere and the mom and pop coffee shops don't make good drinks, you have no idea how great it is to find a Starbucks.
Debit Card Friendly: No penalty for buying a latte with a debit card.
Staff: Very friendly.

Internet Access: No free Wi-Fi. But it works reliably in a pinch.
Space: Not enough tables.

Final Thoughts on Starbucks @ Charlotte Street:
Not my first choice by any means, but a reliable spot in a pinch.

There are other ones worth mentioning that I haven't tried yet. Have you?

Caffiend (open 24 hours!)
The Green Sage (the old BeanStreets)
Biltmore Coffee Traders (I know Matt Mulder is a fan of this one)

A Couple Tips for the Remote Workers:
There's nothing more frustrating to a coffee shop owner than seeing all their tables filled up with people camped out with their laptops drinking $.75 cups of drip coffee. Our local shop owners are providing free internet access, the least we can do is spend a little money there, especially if we're making money sitting there. So be generous - and thankful we have so many great coffee shops in Asheville.

And ... if you happen to see me at The Drip or Izzy's, walk up and say HI!


xty said...

what indeed is weird/missing abt mountain java Merrimon? I think that it is @ a werid stripmally thing. Same deal with he one near my job in Candler. It is haunted by ex-something-elseness.

Short Street Cakes said...

I love the dripolator- I do lots of wedding cake tastings there, enjoy the vibe and the people. Thanks dripolator!

Edgy Mama said...

The new owners at the Dripo have lifted the two-hour limit! Hurrah!

I didn't realize Izzy's had wireless service now. About a year ago, the owner swore he'd never get it!

I also like True Confections at The Grove Arcade--great wireless access and often empty. Coffee's so-so, but desserts are good. Also, World Coffee on Battery Park Ave. has a nice atmosphere and lots of nooks and crannies, although you're dependent on the Beampost for wireless, which is iffy sometimes. In mid-April, they'll open they're balcony seating on top of the Flat Iron building, which should be fun. Also, I must admit, I love Bruegger's on Merrimon. The staff there are the sweetest. They've actually unplugged a neon sign for me so I could plug in my laptop. Also, I own a bottomless coffee mug from there so it makes it very inexpensive.

Nice roundup. I need to check out Green Sage, for sure.

AM said...

In Weaverville there's Well-Bred Bakery. I don't drink coffee so I can't rate the drinks, but the food is good and they're quite generous with it. I don't ever have a problem with internet access and there's no time limit that I'm aware of.

Cons: Not enough outlets, so make sure the laptop battery is charged. It's a small place that can fill up quickly, so it's easy to feel guilty if you've been taking a table for too long.

Not a coffee shop, but Blue Mountain Pizza has free wi-fi as well.

Don Mak said...

Thanks for the additional suggestions everyone. I did not realize Dripolator had removed the two-hour limit.Yay for sure!

Thanks AM for the weaverville suggestions.

I also thought about including bakeries and bagel shops but I figured I'll do that in a future post. I love Bruegger's too (was just there Friday), and of course there's Atlanta Bread, West End Bakery, and others with wi-fi that I use on occasion.


Arthur said...

Great choices, but you forgot to mention Greenberry's on Hendersonville Road. Free connection, no limit, plenty of plugs, no "commercial atmosphere, great location for south Asheville, super staff and the drinks are better than most.

1000 black lines said...

The Drip functions as a great remote office/caffeine dealer. Izzy's and Biltmore Coffee Traders are good back up locations (like you stated Don, Izzy's is quite bohemian while BCT is quietly eclectic). Only con about those two locations is limited space (i.e. small tables that barely fit laptop and coffee cup).

If you need space to work try the Barnes & Noble cafe area (B&N, like Starbucks, does not have free wifi) or Atlanta Bread Co. However, I have never been impressed with B&N nor ABC. I wish I could suggest Malaprop's (I agree with you Don), but they have either intentionally or unintentionally discouraged hoteling (i.e. wi-fi remote office) practices.

Does West End Bakery have wi-fi now? I stopped working there because they didn't have it.

Anyone know about City Bakery?

Don Mak said...

I had never heard of Greenberry's before Arthur mentioned it. I'll have to check it out - their website is less than helpful.

Yeah I'm not sure what the deal is with Malaprop's. I know they seem to have an unusually large homeless issue to deal with - being right next to the library and everything - maybe they had to take a hardline stance on it or something. (I'm totally guessing here and am probably way off!)

Regarding West End Bakery, it has unlimited wi-fi and they have a new back room that is great for hoteling. The password for the wi-fi is at the front counter on a little stand - so don't forget to pick that up when you get your order. (I live next door so I'm very familiar with it.)

Never been to City Bakery myself, though it has been recommended to me numerous times.

Random John said...

I'm reluctant to say this because I don't want it to get too crowded, but Filo on Tunnel Road across from the VA hospital is excellent, locally owned, has great coffee and pastries, and free wifi. Only downside is there are not too many outlets.

Kelly said...

Has anyone been to Gourmet Perks lately? It's really taken a nosedive in the last 6 months or so. It used to be my favorite place to grab a cheap but tasty breakfast plate or sandwich and a great cup of coffee, plus it was a great place to get work done. My terrible experience this morning was the final straw in a series of disappointing visits... I don't think I can even go back to my favorite coffee shop! I guess I'll have to migrate to one of these... but gourmet perks is so convenient, between UNCA and my office...

Isaac said...

Just wanted you to know... Starbucks will have free WiFi - We don't charge for the WiFi, T-Mobile does. We're switching over to AT&T who was willing to work with us on WiFi in the store.

We don't have our own because Starbucks needed a way to securely provide WiFi to the hundreds of people who live around/come into our stores daily.

The new AT&T wifi should be coming sometime this spring and will be apart of all the free stuff you get with your registered Starbucks card (which are also free). And with that, AT&T has committed that all people nationwide who have their DSL service will get unlimited free access at ANY at&t wifi spot and all their wireless customers will also get free unlimited access sometime soon.

-To Kelly- The Ramsey Cafe is really nice. I've done some complaining about their quality and consistency and it's improved by about 30%.

iwilker said...

re West End Bakery -- I thank the gods that they have wi-fi now, that when cabin fever strikes I can actually leave the home office, go for a stroll, and work amongst other human beings.

Just be prepared for the dearth of outlets -- they have ONE. Come with a fully juiced battery.

Wi-fi also available at Westville Pub!