Bean and Barley: ten out of ten. In every way, this place excels. Internet speed: excellent. Seating: expansive and comfortable. Snobbiness: not discernible, but the coffee is still delicious. Lighting and ambience: truly unparalleled. Bean and Barley is so far beyond what I even believed was possible in a coffee shop that I waived the standard 3-visit minimum before writing a review. It’s like true love: sometimes you just know. The single problem with Bean and Barley is that it’s so good I don’t want to visit other coffee shops. But for your sake, dear reader, I will persevere; I must occasionally venture out into the sad world of inferior establishments so I can review them.
While it isn’t one of the coffee shops that Cincinnati natives typically recommend, Sidewinder is an outstanding cafe. It’s located in Northside, right next to a now-closed cheese shop. Talk about prime location! Sidewinder has pretty decent coffee, a great collection of interesting coffee drinks (some with alcohol), above-average chairs, and generally good ambience but for the occasional noisy crowd. It would probably score as a solid 6 except for its best feature – outrageously good wifi. As a millenial, all I care about is internet speed and avocado toast, and Sidewinder offers at least one of those things (it also serves food, so maybe both at some point!). As a place to sit and be seriously productive, it’s very hard to beat Sidewinder.
Lookout Joe was my first love of Cincinnati coffee shops. It sits on Mount Lookout Square, which means both a great atmosphere and free parking. The coffee is fine and it offers good hours, open until 8pm every weeknight. Lookout Joe is the rare coffee shop that offers a good option for standing while working; it has several high tables, and matching high stools if sitting is more your style. The additional outdoor seating, with umbrellas, means this place gets full marks in the seating category. But coffee shops are about more than seating, and this one gets dinged on a few other measures (but not that many). Lookout Joe can get a bit busy, and the interior – while homey – does feel a bit dingy. More importantly, the poor wifi is a real problem that deters me from visiting if I have a lot of web-based work to do. Still, Lookout Joe comes with enough strengths to earn my stamp of approval.
The Rookwood #starbs will efficiently serve you some moderately burned or bitter coffee for a nominal fee, then provide you with mediocre internet. On the plus side, the place is impossibly clean and hours are excellent – Starbucks crushes the competition in this regard, staying open until 10:30 on weeknights and 11:30 on weekends. I have to emphasize the importance of having great hours like this – there really isn’t anywhere else to go if you intend to be working late. This feature alone makes Starbucks one of the best options around. But overcrowding sometimes pushes you to less-than-ideal locations, and good luck in the inevitable passive-aggressive staring contest with the guy next to you who also needs to use that one power outlet.
Once a subject of my scorn, Deeper Roots has improved the comfort of its seating situation dramatically and vaulted into good coffee shop territory. It has the reputation for serving some of the best coffee in Cincinnati, though personally it isn’t my favorite; its blends tend to be fruity, and their descriptions read like reviews of fine wine. It, like Carabello, definitely suffers from a culture of coffee hipsterism that I find very distateful. Still, it checks the main boxes: good coffee, acceptable seating, and consistent wifi. Deeper Roots scores as a very average coffee shop (average is okay!).
Formerly known as Kidd Coffee, Hyde Perk is less than 3 minutes by foot from my apartment, so I feel obligated to walk there. I don’t really like walking, so that’s a bit of a drawback. I find the ambience and chair comfort to be HP’s strong suits. On the other hand, it’s too expensive and I am a little worried that the new name is intended to pay homage to Friends (Central Perk), arguably the worst TV show I have consumed in entirety. And by far the worst thing about the place is its live music. Perhaps I find myself in the minority here, but there are few things in life I dread like being in a café when a musician hijacks the place. On three separate occasions, I have been cornered at Hyde Perk and subjected to a performance. I’ve reluctantly removed my earphones, resigned myself to getting no work done, and begun searching for discreet escape routes. If Hyde Perk is reincarnated as Café Nervosa and cuts the live music nonsense, it can expect a better rating next time.
Rohs is a very nice coffee shop. Sure, the chairs could be more comfortable and the wifi could be faster, but the environment is a great mix of classy and comfortable. The coffee is quite good, the lighting is excellent, and the level of crowding is perfect – never too empty but never full. In fact, I really don’t have much to say about Rohs except that it’s solid and I like the place. The one (big) downside of the place is its location: Clifton. Not only is Clifton just kind of a grimy, sad part of Cincinnati, it also has far and away the worst parking situation in the city. And when you want to go to a coffee shop, you usually want to get out of your car and leave it somewhere. The dearth of parking has once driven me away entirely and another time forced me to execute the always-fun two-person parallel park, where a kindly (and somewhat pitying) friend guides you carefully into an absurdly small space. Still, Rohs escapes a larger penalty for this major problem because I’ve realized that I just have to limit my visits to weekends and college classtime, when the university students who live nearby move their cars.
People have recommended Carabello to me since I moved to Cincinnati. Maybe it’s not fair, but this local obsession with the place negatively affected my experience there. It is indeed good in some ways, and probably has the best coffee offerings in Cincinnati: they have their own roastery, they sell a wide variety of drinks, and the actual coffee is quite good. But the music is too loud, the chairs aren’t great, and the place is very busy – to the point that I have been unable to sit down on several occasions! As we all know, a coffee shop without seating is strictly inferior to just making coffee at home and sitting on your couch. The bigger problem with Carabello is its pretension. I think this is part of how it has earned its reputation for excellent coffee, which (as noted above) is correct but unrelated to the weird decor, high prices, and hipster vibes. Though they do sell coffee beans, they generally don’t put roast dates on the bags – a totally unacceptable practice for someone who wants to buy good coffee beans, and particularly galling given the prices at Carabello. Worst of all, I recently visited and found a sign that said they don’t have wifi on Saturdays to foster a sense of “community”. Obviously I don’t need to tell you that not having wifi is the cardinal sin of ethanswan.com/coffee_shop_ratings. It’s like choosing to turn off the water and electricity. But worse. I had no choice but to give Carabello a 3.
While in most aspects Coffee Emporium is an above average coffee shop, its stunningly bad internet situation is simply too much to overcome. You are allotted wifi in 45 minute increments (so you don’t accidentally use up all the internet?). And if that isn’t irritating enough, the wifi speed is slow enough as to be considered unusable. There is more I could say about Coffee Emporium, and most of it is positive. But it doesn’t matter because a place without internet is basically the wilderness.