Front Range

Coffee Mate

A java-fueled day in the life of a Denver office nomad.

July 2013

It’s Monday morning, and barista Lindsay Craft is singing. She’s taken a break from making lattes to serenade the regulars at Drip Denver, a Golden Triangle coffeeshop on the first floor of the Beauvallon building on Lincoln. Her folksy vocals and acoustic guitar aren’t how most office workdays begin, but it’s exactly why I—and droves of other “cubicle transplants”—prefer to do our work at coffeehouses around the city.

Within an hour of the impromptu concert, the early-morning hush inside Drip gives way to bustle. The place fills up with messenger bags, notebooks, and laptops. Professors, writers, designers, and businesswomen turn Drip into an ad hoc office, a cluster of cubicles in everything but appearance. Indeed, the office isn’t what it used to be. In Denver, like many cities around the country, staff jobs have disappeared and workforces have decentralized. Uprooted workers cobble together incomes from freelance gigs and contract jobs, buzzing from coffee joint to coffee joint like bees let out of the hive for the first time.

Like many other members of Denver’s nomadic coffeeshop tribe, I used to work in an office. I left voluntarily. Just in time, too. The position I’d held evaporated soon after I resigned. Like so many displaced cubicle dwellers, I decided never to go back. Now, as a freelancer, I wander, physically and figuratively, throughout each workday. Sometimes I seek the company of the freewheeling patrons of the Denver Bicycle Cafe, and sometimes the intensely focused laptop jockeys of the aptly named The Desk. And then, there are times when a spontaneous concert from a quirky barista does wonders for my motivation.

I could work from home. That’s the dream, after all. But I’ve tried it, and I hate it. It’s too solitary, too static. I don’t miss the constraints of my old cubicle, but I do miss being surrounded by others in the throes of productivity. When I’m creating, I crave stimulus. Conversation. Movement. Life. Not to mention rich, Grade A caffeine. 

I might not be as efficient as I used to be when I worked under the constant watch of a boss. But I no longer measure my life by cold, hard output. I used to be on someone else’s clock; now I make my own hours. I greet each day with a sense of freedom—and the occasional feeling of panic that comes with being the supervisor of your own fate. 

It may seem as if nomadism is a lonely way to work, but I’m not alone. There’s a code within my tribe, unspoken and strong. Don’t hog the bandwidth. Don’t bogart the outlets. Watch each other’s stuff during bathroom runs or java refills. Cough up the Wi-Fi password when a newbie asks. Or in the case of Pablo’s, the stalwart local roaster that recently opened a second location on 13th and Pennsylvania, politely tell the newbie that there is no Wi-Fi.

That’s actually the very reason I head to Pablo’s—so I can block out all the distractions of the Internet and curl up with a stack of printouts. Or a notebook and a pen. Or just a cup of Pablo’s skillfully crafted espresso and a bit of background chatter. I know: No Internet? No email? Can you really get work done? “It’s not like we’re against technology,” says longtime Pablo’s employee Jason Cain during a lull in the morning rush. Michael Jackson is playing on the shop’s stereo. “We just don’t want to work in an office; we want to work in a coffeeshop.” Humming along, I couldn’t agree more.

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FIVE DENVER COFFEESHOP "OFFICES”

1) Denver Bicycle Cafe, 1308 E. 17th Ave., 720-446-8029

2) The Desk, 230 E. 13th Ave., 303-832-0868

3) Drip Denver, 955 Lincoln St., 303-832-0482

4) Hooked On Colfax, 3213 E. Colfax Ave., 303-398-2665

5) Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 S. Broadway, 303-778-7579