myke’s book club

August Farewell – David G. Hallman

As most of my regular followers know, I recently lost my husband of fifteen years to pancreatic cancer.  The journey experienced by Larry and I has been documented extensively through various social media outlets and I was considering gathering them all and publishing them in a coherent memoir.  I have not yet gathered the strength to handle this task but hope at some point it will represent part of my healing process.

I recently met someone who has been able to share his journey as his husband succumbed to this disease after a thirty three year relationship of their own.

David G. Hallman’s August Farewell is an honest, loving and incredibly moving document of the changes and damage that pancreatic cancer wreaks on the patient and their caregivers, as well as displaying how lives lived in love will beget love and support from those who surround them.

Mr. Hallman’s story paralleled mine in that when the final diagnosis was given, there was very little time left and the focus shifted to providing comfort and relief in their last moments together.  The shared vignettes of of Mr. Hallman and Mr. Conklin’s lives together prior to the diagnosis, set the stage for their final moments together.

Given that my husband’s passing is quite fresh, I found solace in that there was someone who experienced the same fears, the same comforts and the same love as I had.  In reading August Farewell , I found equal opportunity for laughter and tears.  Mr. Hallman’s memoir has helped ease some of my pain, alleviated my fears and offered me permission to take time to grieve.

I for one thank Mr. Hallman for sharing his and Bill’s journey with me.  Thank you for this glimpse into a story I know all too well myself.

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2012 in mykesworld – a review

So 2012 was a rather tumultuous year here in mykesworld, with both amazing highs and mind numbingly painful lows.  I went from an incredible year of two successful tours as a musician, recording two CDs worth of music to cancer rearing its ugly head again in the lives of DH and I and my day job rapidly going south due to organizational changes.

To quote a good friend in Florida, the latter half of 2012 was chock-full of FOG (Fucking Opportunities for Growth).

Things I’ve learned or had reinforced for me this year.

  • When life is going well for you, take time to relish and enjoy the ride, because you never know when your fortunes may change.
  • In times of crisis, you truly find out who your true friends and family are.
  • That more times than not, my Wiccan, Jewish and Atheist friends behave in a more “Christ-like” and compassionate manner than many of my Christian acquaintances (sorry folks, this particular truth may hurt, but you really should try practicing what you preach).
  • Closed minds often come with open mouths.
  • That my bottling up things that bother me, is harmful to only one person:  me!  I’m not going to keep things inside anymore, if they are eating me up inside, they are hurting me.
  • I cannot take on or accept anyone else’s bullshit as my own any more.  If you’re crapping on me, I’m going to tell you and also tell you to stop.
  • That as a small business operator, follow through is highly important.  Particularly if you feel that you would not be the best option for a potential client.  After two meetings to engage a local business to assist me in taking my music and entertainment business further, providing them with samples of my work, including some unreleased stuff – I’ve heard nothing.  Not even a reply to my mea culpa letter thanking them for their time.  For this reason alone, I will never be able to recommend their services to other potential clients.
  • That empty slogans and catchy marketing campaigns are meaningless unless they are backed up with positive action, hard work and follow through.
  • That medical treatment available to us in Ontario can either be top notch or the bare minimum.  As a taxpayer, I’m not going to accept the bare minimum when it comes to having my loved ones cared for.
  • While you can polish and dress up a turd all you want, it’ll still be a turd.
  • Music IS the best!
  •  I have an incredible group of friends, neighbours and family who are there for me and that I shouldn’t be afraid to fall into their open arms when I need to.  For this, I am grateful and truly thankful.

on selling out and endorsement

An earlier posting about monetizing my time and efforts as a social media kinda guy, garnered a lot of responses from fellow social media types.  Particularly when dealing with events that I am being asked to attend that I truly was not planning on attending for various reasons (lack of interest, cost, etc.)

In the long run, I have decided to draw the line in the sand.  I’m sure some people will take offense to this but all I have throughout the various social media outlets are the following:

  • My opinions and voice
  • My integrity

One I will always have, as I am not afraid to voice my opinions, sometimes to my detriment (a less than stellar review of local restaurant led to my being banned from that restaurant and another fine establishment run by the same couple).  But I am not willing to sacrifice what little integrity I have in exchange for money or product.  To this end:

If I am attending an event, if I happen upon something that tickles me or that I feel is of interest to my followers on Twitter or my blog, I will pass on said information.  I will not promote events that I was not planning on attending, nor will I promote a product that I would not personally buy using my own money.  Everything I pass on or endorse is a reflection of me and my feelings, if I cannot support a product or idea, I won’t be passing it on.

In the past, I have written product reviews for print magazines and in every instance, the review is sent back to the company to comment and correct prior to their being printed (for obvious legal reasons).  On a couple of occasions, the companies I reviewed were so happy with my reviews that they allowed me to keep the product.  I was honoured by this, however the review process felt “tainted” in that it seemed they were buying my endorsement with free stuff.  I usually passed these items on or returned them regardless.

As a musician I’ve had the opportunity to have product endorsements, where I would use one or more companies’ products exclusively in exchange for a discount, product and tour support or other considerations.   In my experience, this could be a good thing and it can backfire on you as well.

Case Study One:  I was a huge fan of one particular company’s basses as several of my musical heroes (including a Beatle) played a particular instrument.  This company’s instruments are particularly hard to find as they are a low production manufacturer and pride themselves on their exclusivity and craftsmanship.  I ordered a bass from them from a local music store and, while the tone was what I desired, I had problems with certain aspects of the craftsmanship of the bass. 

Knowing the store I ordered it from would not have another instrument in stock, I contacted the company directly, sent them a copy of my CD and they immediately had me send back the instrument.  They sent me two instruments in return for use with my band, which I used, despite problems with one of the two instruments.  The main problem with the one bass was that a certain note on the neck was constantly fretting sharp and sounded out of tune.

I thought it was a simple intonation and setup issue, so I performed a quick setup on the bass and found that the problem was highlighted.  I had my repair tech look at the bass and tried a setup and once again, that note was fretting sharp.

We then tried changing the strings to a different brand, thinking it was a flaw with the strings manufacturers and things remained sharp on that note.  When we finally took the bass apart and measured things, it was discovered that one fret of the instrument was actually misplaced, causing all notes to play sharp on that fret, it’s just the one note on the particular string was more noticeable than others.  When I sent the bass back to the manufacturer as fixing the placement of the fret would have involved extensive finish work, they informed me that by changing the strings to a different manufacturer’s nullified their warranty and told me they’d send me back the bass if I didn’t want to pay for the refinishing work to be done.  Apparently I had to use their strings as an endorsing artist and changing them in the effort to compensate for their poor craftsmanship, voided my warranty and had me labelled as a “difficult” artist.

The cost of this refinishing work would have added up to 75% if the cost of a new instrument, so I suggested they could keep the bass and I’d use the other.  They informed me that the instrument in question was “my” bass and the other instrument was the “endorsement bass” and asked for it back, still sending me the bass with the incorrect fret on it so they wouldn’t have to refinish it.  This was the second instrument I had received from them with quality control issues and I was sorely disappointed, noting the high cost of their instruments.  I could not support and put my name towards a company that could not put out consistent and quality product…

Long story short, I sent back both basses, thanking the company for their consideration but obviously we could not work together.  I further contacted the store for a refund of my funds noting I had return receipts for both basses.  The store would not refund my money and there was a little back and forth with the company and they refunded the wholesale portion of the cost of the instrument.  I was not impressed and still out a portion of the money, but I could not fault the store as they are simply the distributor – however I do vote with my wallet and choose to spend my money elsewhere to this day. 

Case Study Two:  A company known for producing custom guitars to order and also manufactures amplifiers and public address systems.  I was looking for a portable PA system for festival and house concert use and found this company.  As they specifically do mail order, I contacted them, explaining who I was and what I was looking for, sent them a press kit and demo package and paid for a PA system. 

After the bad experience I had with the prior manufacturer, I was not looking for any freebies or other consideration, however they were willing to help me out as a solo artist and provide support on the road.  I ended up with a discount on the PA system and an acoustic guitar at the artist’s discount rate, as well as supplies of strings and picks to last me a tour or two.

I loved the PA system (and still use it to this day), however found the guitar to not be to my liking and offered to send it back after the tour.  They thanked me for the offer and told me to keep it, asking me for leftover strings and picks that were still in their sealed packages (which I didn’t send back but paid them for).  I still order (and pay for) speakers, cables and other supplies from them, not as an artist but as a customer and some of the old guys still send me swag every now and again, even though I’m no longer an endorser.  To this day, when asked for ideas about purchasing a PA system, I recommend them heartily for their quality, consistency and customer service.

I’ve been lucky to have musician friends whom have hooked me up with companies that they endorse for one time assistance with shows, tours, etc.  I’m willing to try these items out and am thankful that these companies have given me the chance to “try before I buy” and test stuff out in the real world.  If I like their product, I will happily pay for it, if I don’t like (or cannot use it), I will thank them politely and return it with my comments. 

I have a lovely acoustic guitar from a wonderful company, who loaned me an instrument on the recommendation of a friend (thanks MK!) for a tour where I was doing a fair amount of live looping.  I was so happy with this guitar that I purchased it (at full price) and it has replaced my 20 year old workhorse for live gigs – it’s simply one of the best acoustic guitars with a pickup for live use that I have played.  Does it touch my main guitar tonally or playing wise?  Not in the least, but it fulfills a need.  Will I endorse either company?  Not officially, but I’ll let folks know that they are my recommendations for quality guitars by companies who care about their customers.  And I’ll say that for free!

So to event organizers:  if you want me to attend your event and tweet or blog about it – “sell” your event to me – make me excited and want to go!  Make it affordable so I can indeed go!  Make the events and proceedings worthy of being talked about!  I will be more than happy to tweet and blog about the goings on, if I find that there is something that my readers and followers will find of interest or use.  If I’m not interested in attending, I simply won’t go, even if you offer me compensation – life’s too short and busy to spend cycles, worrying about things that I can’t see having impact on my future these days.

To products and manufacturers who have offered me stuff in exchange for a few kind words or consideration.  If I would normally consider purchasing this product, I will happily accept what you offer me, however will inform folks that I have received this product or service gratis.  If I can provide a positive endorsement, expect one publically – but  – it will be a “warts and all” assessment.  If I can provide constructive criticism, expect it privately along with the returned product.

If I normally would not consider purchasing this product, expect a “thanks but no thanks” response from me along with the returned product.  Don’t get me wrong, I am truly honoured when people and companies offer me stuff, really I am (and am damn lucky). 

But all I have in this brave new world is me and my reputation!  And there is no such thing as a free ride in this day and age and no ride is worth the price of my soul!

how to restore faith in your business in 500 words or less

Wow, it’s been a crazy couple of days here at mykesworld!  My earlier blog posting about a business I love and continue to support has blown up locally and I’ve received a lot more attention than expected.  My little voice in the wilderness went from an average of 3 readers a day to over 550 readers in one day.

First of all welcome to the new readers and subscribers and THANK YOU!

Thank you as well to the folks who linked to it on Twitter, Facebook and their respective blogs!  Much appreciated. Thanks to everyone who commented, positive or negative!  No… let me rephrase that, thanks to the people who PUBLICALLY commented and did not hide behind anonymous names, fake email addresses and contributed to the discussion in a constructive and positive manner.  Those who posted anonymous comments that were little more than personal attacks and name calling to both the owners of the establishment in question and yours truly were not approved.

Sorry folks, I like discussion, NOT name calling and finger pointing and I posted using my full name and folks can figure out how to contact me to engage in discussion.  If you’re not going to do the same – you WILL be ignored in mykesworld!

I’m going to be open and honest here and state that I do have strong opinions and am not afraid to state them.  I have been banned from certain establishments because of online comments and reviews I have given them, however I cannot apologize for my experiences and opinions.  I do take my concerns directly to the people involved, however if the same issues continue to be repeated, I’m not afraid to voice them.

I’m sorry for the folks that saw my prior posting as tearing the business and their owners apart, it was not intended to do so and I think if you read my comments carefully, I was trying to show how their arguments about the city and their experiences might have been skewed by their frustration and anger.  I HAD attempted to reply to the initial posting, however my comments were deleted and further commenting on the posting was blocked.  A blog is intended as a two way street, so I tend to be a little more critical of the fact that they erased comments that disagreed with their perspective, eventually preventing any active discussion in the blog posting.  Isn’t preventing active discussion kind of against the blog mentality?

By doing so, they actually made the situation worse as the conversation was taken to Facebook, Twitter and other blogs.  The response made one week later, continued their determination and further deleting of comments which read to me as constructive criticism, made things worse.

Thankfully their manager took the bull by the horns and wrote her response to the controversy, which I hope will restore faith and support of this incredible establishment over the next few days.  Max is indeed a remarkable woman and The Baltimore House is lucky to have her at the reins.

I appreciate that Max’ response pulls NO punches: “I don’t blame ANYONE for being upset about ANYTHING either of these two guys posted on the Baltimore House blog this weekend. They were thoughtless, arrogant and way off-base, especially considering they haven’t seen Hamilton through the years like we have.”

I appreciate and applaud that Grant and Jimmy have allowed their staff to call them on their own pretensions and negative attitudes.  Such openness is mostly non-existent in the business world and more businesses need to take that approach.  I always appreciate when folks I’m working with constructively call me on my own bullshit!

I also LOVE Max’ last sentence in her response: “Let’s continue to show this city and all of its components, including the place I manage and believe in, how much we want it to thrive. You CAN do anything in Hamilton. Including forgive, accept, and embrace those who don’t know Hamilton as well as you do.” I will continue to support Baltimore House, as it is one of the best places to get a consistently good coffee, in a relaxing and chill atmosphere in surroundings that are, indeed, sexy!

Addendum One:

Jimmy has written again to set things right on his account!

Addendum Two:

Grant has added his own mea culpa to the mix!  I am truly impressed with his response and honesty over the situation.  This takes incredible chutzpah (balls) in my opinion!

Finale:

I’m glad to see the guys setting things right.  I am even happier to see that they still have the passion and drive to make The Baltimore House THE place to be.  Come June 24th, I want to offer any assistance I can in setting up a theme night that will set the Parlour Room apart from the rest of the downtown crowds.  Now I’m letting this matter drop, aside from buying Grant, Jimmy and Max a drink of their choosing – at my usual haunt on Thursday evenings from 5 until 7pm….Baltimore House.

music listography: list the twenty albums you’d bring if you were leaving planet earth on a spaceship.

I’ve talked about this one before, however get to expand this list and not have to provide explanations here!  Again, this list is done biographically!

  1. Tommy – The Who
  2. 2112 – Rush
  3. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
  4. Moving Pictures – Rush
  5. III – Led Zeppelin
  6. Revolver – The Beatles
  7. hat. – Mike Keneally
  8. Hot Rats – Frank Zappa
  9. A Live One – Phish
  10. Live Art – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
  11. Polytown – Terry Bozzio, Mick Karn and David Torn
  12. Invitation – California Guitar Trio
  13. The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails
  14. Our One Mistake – The Old Ceremony
  15. OK Computer – Radiohead
  16. Wormwood – The Residents
  17. 10,000 Days – Tool
  18. Ed’s Not Dead – Hamell on Trial
  19. Oceanship – Oceanship
  20. The Resistance – Muse

myke’s (recent) lykes

Recent postings have been filled with doom and gloom, whining and other discussions of an overtly serious nature.  It has indeed been a while since I’ve discussed things that have intrigued, inspired and, well, tickled me.  So here is a listing of things that have made me smile as of late!

The Raconteurs
Jack White’s band after the White Stripes broke up.  This quartet combines Jack’s incredibly chaotic and noisy guitar playing with the concise British Invasion-inspired pop hooks from singer Brendan Benson.

I was initially a bit leery of this band as it comes off as a “supergroup” made of up Third Man Records (Jack White’s label) “all stars”, however their incredible cover of Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues” (one of my favourite songs) drew me.  The Raconteurs’ two releases tread the line between finely crafted pop songs and ragged rock and roll, threatening to derail at any moment and they provide the listener with a fun, noisy, musical experience along the lines of Crazy Horse, Badfinger and the Stones…

The Civil Wars
I smiled while watching the 2012 Grammy awards and we were treated to a 30 second touch of class that was The Civil Wars, as they introduced Taylor Swift.  This group combines two incredible singer-songwriters into a group that seems to be stronger than the individual talents involved.  Their release “Barton Hollow” is a masterful work of moody song writing and performance that definitely takes the listener on a journey.

They won the 2012 Grammy Awards for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album.  Two things the Grammies got right this year.

If you want a taste, you can download their debut live recording “Live at Eddie’s Attic” here.

The Good Hunters
The Good Hunters are a Hamilton folk, bluegrass, blues and rock and roll band that have been playing live shows throughout Hamilton.  Their debut CD “Love You Baby” showcases their incredible talent as musicians as well as songwriters.  I’ve recently been enjoying the talents of brothers John and Joe Moran as they play acoustic sets at The Cannon Coffee Company and Love You Baby has been in regular rotation as a CD and on my iPod…even more inspiring when you realize the young age of these guys (18-22) and that the music on Love You Baby was recorded outside in nature’s studio.

Worth a listen for those who enjoy country-tinged song writing.

Cake and Loaf’s Vegan Quinoa and Chick Pea Pot Pie
Cake and Loaf is a local bakery that I have written about here in my coffee blog postings.  They also make incredible baked goods and soups.  Recently DH and I, in search of different foods to enjoy at dinner, tried their Curried Vegan Pot Pie, made with quinoa and chick peas.

It is a savoury and delicious blend of chickpeas, quinoa, zucchini and other veggies in a flaky pastry and curry-tinged sauce.  One large pie provides three warming, stick-to-your-ribs and nourishing meals for us and is a lovely treat to have when we tire of chicken and seafood.

Needlework Fabric and Creative Workspace
Recently two Hamilton entrepreneurs opened Needlework, as a boutique-style fabric shop and workspace.  In their own words:  “Our goal is to bring together the do-it-yourself and creative community of Hamilton and the surrounding area by providing the supplies and space required to make anything from a handmade dress to an elaborate quilt.

In addition to designer fabrics, sewing patterns and notions, they also have in-house sewing machines which you can rent by the hour and also offer workshops and classes for both new and experienced sewers.  Both Kate and Liz are extremely creative, vibrant and driven women and they have provided a new home for the creative community to gather in Hamilton.  I can’t wait to see what the future brings for this exciting venture!

I’ve already purchased a shirt pattern and material from them for some custom-made summer shirts and am awaiting my seamstress to pick them up.

Terry Fallis’ “The Best Laid Plans” and “The High Road
A Canadian communications consultant does the impossible, taking the ins and outs of Canadian Politics and makes them interesting, entertaining and funny all at once.  I loaned both books to Parental Unit 1 and she devoured both of them in days, loaning them to my brother who read both of them equally as fast.  These books are highly recommended to those who like to laugh, while rolling their eyes at Canadian politics.

myke’s Hamilton and beyond café crawl

A while back I wrote on the incredible renaissance of independent coffee culture that my hometown Hamilton is experiencing.  More recently, I reviewed chain coffee alternatives with surprising results.  I’m heading back to my indie roots and focusing on two new cafés that have recently opened in Hamilton, Ontario and branching out to places I frequent while out of my home city who are definitely deserving of a mention!

Baltimore House recently opened on King William at Hughson, providing the downtown core a coffeehouse with plenty of atmosphere, good drinks and a variety of delicious sandwiches and house-baked goodies.  Their coffee is sourced from various local roasters including Homegrown Hamilton and Red Hill Coffee Trade (I believe they use their decaf).

The room looks gothic and dark, however the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  The recent addition of the beautifully decorated “parlour” space, christened with a theatrical production, makes this a good location to sit while you savour and enjoy a quality coffee.  The European-style service (beverages are served on silver platters with a glass of water to cleanse your palate and a chocolate) adds a touch of class and makes you want to linger and soak in the atmosphere.

Baltimore house has become a favourite place of mine and DH’s to relax, write and enjoy a drink.

Cannon Coffee Company is the latest addition to the Hamilton coffee scene, bringing a bright and open space to the corner of Ottawa St. and Cannon St. East.  The room is bright and spacious and they serve up a smooth, delicious espresso shot (Detour’s Punch Buggy Roast) and are beginning to explore their food options with a variety of house-baked goodies and goods from Cake and Loaf Bakery.  Recently they had a lovely weekend brunch with your choice of house-baked quiche or waffles with local maple syrup. 

I am lucky to have this wonderful coffee house within walking distance of my home and anticipate many a weekend afternoon spent enjoying their hospitality and high quality beverage options.  The fact the owners Anne and Cindy make you feel welcome and an honoured guest in their establishment goes a long way and they always seem to go the extra step to make you feel like a valued customer.

Homegrown Hamilton  Formerly the Bread and Roses café and located in the Sky Dragon Center.  Homegrown Hamilton roasts their coffee on site, using only fair-trade green beans.  They also have a menu with a variety of vegetarian and vegan light meal and snack options.  Their coffee is very good, however quality of the espresso shots depends on who is working the machine.  Mike is an excellent barista and offers coffee cupping sessions on occasion.

The atmosphere is loose and artistic and they have a grass-roots and community-minded connection to the inner city.  The Sky Dragon Co-operative supports various community organizations and often offers classes and seminars aimed at effecting positive change in the world and community.

Cake and Loaf Bakery is a wonderful local bakery who specializes in quality baked goods made from ingredients that are organic, fair trade and sourced from local farmers and purveyors.  They offer a delivery lunch service (their soups, salads and vegan quinoa pies are incredible), in cooperation with THAAT Delivery (www.thaat.ca) and they also serve up a wonderful latte made from Detour Coffee that is always enjoyable, so when you pick up a treat or your bakery order, ensure you partake while you are there!

Coffee Tree Roastery, Toronto, ON was a recent find of mine in Toronto.  Despite being one of the oldest roasteries in Toronto, it wasn’t until a foray into Bloor West Village, did I find this gem!  I fully respect a place that smells of roasting coffee and has a wall of single source varietals and blends to choose from and yes, you can order the coffee that you drink from one of the MANY varieties available in French press or pour-over (Chemex to be exact!) style as well as what brewed or espresso blends they are serving that day.

The café itself has a small but delicious looking menu of products from local ACE Bakery, Jumbo Empanada and Wanda’s Pies and they specialize in a variety of breakfast burritos in the morning.  They also sell a nice selection of implements to brew their coffee at home including some beautiful Bodum and Chemex (perhaps the Rolls-Royce of pour-over coffee makers) products.  John, their roastmaster is usually on hand to assist you in selecting a blend, varietal and roast for your needs!

Their focus is on freshly roasted, coffee that is ethically sourced and is socially, environmentally and economically responsible.  They also have a wide variety of teas that fall under the Ethical Tea Partnership and are certified organic.  They also regularly support local and international charities through fundraising, auctions and donations.  Their coffee grounds are collected for garden and coffee sacks are recycled for use by their customers and various organizations.

Lit Espresso Bar, Toronto, ON Lit is one of the first independent specialty coffee bars in Toronto, specializing in Stumptown Roasters’ coffee.  Their trained baristas focus on every shot and their two locations are stylish and provide great places to relax and meet folks.  They also bake their own pastries in house and have regularly scheduled cuppings to help people understand their coffee better.  Their dedication to coffee perfection and education is admirable their locations are comfortable and, for the most part, free from pretension.

Moonbeam Café, Toronto, ON On the outskirts of Toronto’s Kensington Market lies Moonbeam Coffee Company.  I was shocked when I was first dragged into this coffee house (the name and exterior had me fearing the smell of patchouli incense and love beads), as I wasn’t expecting the smell of freshly roasted coffee (they roast their own blends from green beans) mingling with the smell of fresh baked goodies.

This narrow storefront provides a surprisingly large selection of fresh roasted fair-trade coffees, homemade baked goods and one of the larger tea selections in the city of Toronto.  Don’t let the small unassuming storefront fool you, there is adequate space to sit back and relax and enjoy a cup and a fresh made baked good.  The hippie-ish name belies their sensible nature and commitment to organic and fair trade coffees and teas.  Plus they pull a wicked good shot of espresso.

Balzac’s Coffee, Toronto, ON. Located in the Distillery District (with other locations in Liberty Village, Stratford, Niagara on the Lake and Kitchener), Balzac’s inhabits the former case goods warehouse and has an open, airy, almost European atmosphere.  Their snacks and goodies come from a who’s who of Toronto-area bakeries (including Dufflet, Stratford and the local Brick Street Bakery).  Their coffee is roasted in the Hamilton area (Stoney Creek if I recall) and they are able to pull a decent shot of espresso.  This location is absolutely HUGE and you should be able to find a table, except perhaps on busy weekends.

The upper level is a great space, displaying art by local artists and also serving as a cozy and intimate event space.  I have been to no less than two weddings at Balzac and have greatly enjoyed both occasions!  One warning though, don’t go to Balzac’s expecting wifi.  They do not provide it, so just sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere (all of their locations are in historic buildings chosen for their unique character), decent coffee and conversation.

Scratch Seasonal Bakery, Durham, NC Scratch is a small artisanal bakery located in Downtown Durham, NC whose aim is to support and nurture relationships with their local farmers and producers.  Their bakery has a variety of goods that changes daily based on what ingredients are available and they take their coffee seriously.  Like Cake and Loaf, they ensure that their baked goods and foods are accompanied by quality beverages.  Their location is light, airy and informal and a joy to visit!

I’ve heard from a very reliable source that their baked goods are truly delicious!

Uncommon Grounds, Saratoga Springs, NY  I was in Saratoga Springs, NY lecturing at a clown convention when the need for coffee beyond the dreck the hotel was serving was identified (really! this lasted after the first morning’s coffee infusion went down the bathroom sink).  In between classes, I walked down Broadway in the downtown area and was lured by the smell of freshly roasting beans.

I walked into Uncommon Grounds and found a beautiful shop filled with wood, warm lighting and the smell of roasting coffee and freshly baked bagels.  Needless to say, a coffee infusion and a bagel were absolutely necessary (as I was still fat, I still ate baked goods then).  Their coffee was wonderful and warranted repeat daily visits during my stay that week.  I was invited to attend my first cupping and enjoyed my first REAL espresso that week.

Uncommon Grounds was my first serious initiation into coffee culture and I quite enjoyed this unassuming place that focused on EVERY SINGLE aspect of their coffee from sourcing the beans, to roasting to brewing them perfectly.  This attention to detail both shocked and impressed me greatly and changed my life as a coffee drinker.