Aside from the backyard on the bike trail, Cafe Zoma sucked. Not serious suck, like a chest wound from a hollow point .45 slug or having to go to one of the snotty coffee shops down on the square where the barristas are all bored shallow young creeps, but it sucked.
Here's my take on why:
The layout was terrible. You walk in the front door, and you're shoved right into a cattle chute. The coffee bar and the kitchen space behind it cut the store in half, with tall walls making an open space into a cluttered broken up mess. There was no center to it, no feeling like it was more than a walk through joint.
The coffee was average at best. Not nearly as good as what can be had at EVP on East Washington, and not even as good as the coffee at Mickey's brunch on weekends.
The folks running the coffee bar were too isolated from the rest of the joint. A good shop has barristas that not only like their job, but who also make a coffee shop feel like it's an inviting and welcome place.
I never had a bad interaction with someone working there, but never one where I felt like anybody really cared much about it either. I can get as good a coffee at McDonald's these days and it didn't feel much different, vibe wise.
The furniture sucked. A mish mash of uncomfortable tables, with no sense to how they were arranged, the really never gave the impression that you could find a regular spot.
Part of the reason a lot of people go to coffee shops alone is to sit and listen to other people while pretending to surf the web or read. EVP is perfect for that, and so is the Mermaid.
I know this because people often jump into conversations I've having in either place, and there's a funny dance where folks often orbit around our table full of loudmouth folks before they decide to jump into our circle of hypercaffinated world problem chewers. I never felt like there was any of that vibe in Zoma.
But they did have a good bathroom. And really clean. And it was an ok place to have a live music show, I played a few there. I'll miss stopping there off the bike trail on a hot day and getting something iced. But it had little pull for me besides that.
Lots of local coffee hounds are lamenting the fact that it's closing and trying to figure out how to save it. But until some serious rethinking of the space and attention are given to the overall scheme of things, I don't see how it can survive. Not in a town filled with good coffee houses.
You want the best coffee on the east side, with good barrisats and some seriously thought out space designed to be both cozy and filled with a sense of community, go to EVP. And Rae, Greg or Peter and the rest of the crew will make you a few shots that are perfect, and you'll feel like they actually care.