On March 11, 2020, the seriousness of the novel coronavirus—once a vague, faraway threat—started to become clearer. On that day, the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, the NCAA announced that it would host its annual basketball tournament without fans, the NBA canceled the remainder of its season, the United States announced a travel ban from Europe, and actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson revealed they had tested positive for the virus.
As these announcements came pouring in, I was sitting on a barstool in my usual nook at Brash Coffee on the Westside, watching—over the course of hours—as customers and staff became increasingly anxious.
Having worked as a freelance writer for more than a decade, I have turned to coffee shops as my second home, both temporary office space and community gathering place. I’ve met an editor to discuss new assignments at a nondescript coffee shop on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, filed stories straight off a plane at the Ace Hotel’s Stumptown in New Orleans, and made lifelong friends of strangers at a sidewalk cafe in Amsterdam. But at home, Brash is my go-to spot.
Housed in a repurposed, 700-square-foot shipping container in Westside Provisions District, the space is intimate, bright, and warm—sometimes too warm in summer, when the windows often fog due to the oppressive humidity. Seating is limited indoors, with five metal stools tucked underneath a high-top wooden slab on one side and two chairs flanking a low counter on the other. Outside, a large, L-shaped communal table with low benches sits atop dusty gravel.
What it lacks in size and seating, Brash more than makes up for with ambiance: vases with artfully arranged, minimalist flowers from Le Jardin Francais, hip playlists rotating through the likes of My Morning Jacket and Fleet Foxes, and, of course, stellar coffee, sourced directly from small producers primarily in South and Central America. While others may gravitate toward an iced latte or other fussy drinks, my usual order is a simple 12-ounce coffee, black.
The caffeine fueled many of my marathon writing sessions, but the change of scenery was just as effective at stoking my creativity. Whether it was subtly eavesdropping on strangers or joining an impromptu Sheryl Crow singalong with a group of chiropractic students, the environment broke up the monotony of writing from home and the anxiety over looming deadlines. Plus, it’s hard to nod off on the sofa, throw in another load of laundry, or reorganize your closet when you’re inside a coffee shop.
After all nonessential businesses in Atlanta shut down in late March, Brash remained my only consistent contact with the outside world for several months. I stopped in every other week with my dog (a bag of coffee beans for me; treats from doting baristas for her). Even the two-minute interaction with someone outside my home made me feel a little less isolated. That’s not to say that placing an order through a plexiglass barrier, religiously sanitizing your hands, and grabbing a to-go drink even comes close to luxuriating with a hot mug of coffee in a cozy box with a bunch of similarly work-focused strangers. In today’s new socially distanced world, places like Brash may be the last to return to “normal.” But when they do, I’ll be the first in line—and probably the last to leave.
This article appears in our February 2021 issue.