HOTSPOT: 1369 Coffehouse

Carlton E. Forbes

Maybe you turned off TV on the Radio and heard the news. Or maybe you took off your Raybans and saw the news. It’s terrible but true: Toscanini’s, home of the square’s best coffee and priciest ice cream, is shipping out.

Panic sets in. “Where will I wake up to the sweet strains of neo-avant death-pop-core?” you ask. “Where am I going to find somebody who looks like a homeless person to make my coffee?!”

Fear not: the answer is a T stop away. Or you can suck it up, scenester, and march your Clarks all the way to Central Square, where 1369 Coffeehouse stands as the closest purveyor of great coffee.

And I’m serious about the great coffee bit; the folks who run 1369 know what they’re doing.

Just take a look at the espresso. A layer of white or beige foam on the top of your espresso means your drink is weak–basically a tiny cup of regular coffee–and no foam at all means that someone burned the shit out of your espresso beans.

But a rich, brown layer of foam is what you’ll find, without fail, at 1369.

At least that’s what Tim Zylicz, who has spent the last nine years working at 1369, told me while simultaneously performing a remarkable flip of the wrist as he poured a foam leaf design into a cup of hot chocolate.

He says foam designs became fashionable in Boston three or four years ago. The Leaf and the more pedestrian Spiral are two common designs. And, they’re nice to look at while you wait for “that girl” who disingenuously told you that Central Square sounded like a terrific spot for a date.

According to Tim, every employee at 1369 can execute one on request.

But the coffee’s just the beginning; an impressive selection of teas and an assortment of pastries—culled from local bakeries–rounds out an impressive menu.

The London Fog is my personal favorite. The idea is simple: Earl Grey tea is combined with steamed milk and a shot of vanilla syrup. The result is a shamelessly over-the-top drink.

On days when I’m being honest with myself, I’m usually too embarrassed to buy one. But then again, it’s not like your friends–or anyone else who goes to Harvard, for that matter–are going to find you in Central Square anyway.

But while Central Square may be a cold, scary, place, the atmosphere at 1369 is anything but. It’s a non-threatening mix of indie comfort, kind of like spooning with the Decemberists and Joanna Newsom at the same time.

Tim and the rest of the studiously bedraggled employees at 1369 put their heads together to pick the music for the day. It’s actually a better place to get ready for the 80s dance than you might expect.

Those A-Ha tracks that you think you remember from childhood—it’s actually VH1—serve as great background noise for studying. The tables, which all have their own tiny lamps, facilitate intimate tete a tetes. And, if she still hasn’t shown up, just spread out your notes and you’ll fit right in.

With grad students, that is. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like watching a poor grad student buckle under the realization that his thesis isn’t going to change academia to put your own tricky response paper in perspective.

Naturally, the odd undergraduate at 1369 also hangs out with a pretty hilarious assortment of amiable fashionistas, soccer moms stocking up on Chai, and Cambridge crazies.

First and foremost in this last category is Sammy, a Sicilian with aviator sunglasses and a handlebar mustache. According to Tim, Sammy has been around for years: “He’s been here since before I was,” he says.

And with good reason. For those who recoil at the idea of encountering the PETA interns at Peet’s or the young professionals at Starbucks, 1369 is well worth the trip. Besides, the frigid walk will only make the coffee better.

1369 Coffehouse
757 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday 7am-11pm; Saturday 8am-11pm; Sunday 8am-10pm