Warehoused and Wonderful

Almost hidden from view, and situated in the most non-descript location imaginable, Anthology Coffee fixes itself alongside the deteriorating train tracks which use to service nearby Michigan Central Station and straddles the border of Hubbard-Richard and the West Side Industrial districts of Detroit. The space itself is part of a larger warehouse and social organization known as Ponyride, which operates as a non-profit, offering space for entrepreneurs, artists, other non-profits and any other organization aimed at enhancing the social fabric of Detroit.

The 50+ occupying tenants of this newly developed 30,000 square-foot building offer vastly different services. You can receive personal coaching, request digital marketing services and even buy balm for your boyfriend’s unwieldy beard.

An organization called Detroit Soup I found to be the most interesting tenant: you pay five bucks, get soup, salad and bread, and then listen to four different presenters discuss their ideas for a variety of local projects ranging from education, social justice and art, among others. The winner is then selected by voting and receives the soup-funding to help pursue his or her project.

This social/creative/entrepreneur community creates the perfect opportunity to launch a unique and exciting coffeehouse in a relatively unfamiliar and seemingly disregarded area of Detroit.

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As you approach the building you’ll find two doors for Anthology—one is a traditional grey warehouse door, camouflaged by graffiti, while the other is glass and sits framed between rows of wooden planks. Entering from the door on the right, you’ll discover the barista bar smackdab in the middle of the space, propped up on an industrial cart, which at first glance resembles more of a chemistry setup than a coffee station.

With the barista weighing, grinding, measuring and pouring right in the center of the café, Anthology manages to give off an appearance of approachability, while at the same time striking fear into the timid and introverted individual. That is to say I think some would find it charming that the barista is so freely accessible and not behind a counter, while others might feel apprehension about the unusual arrangement. However, don’t hesitate to approach the coffee island and ask the barista about their offerings, as there is no menu to order from.

Once you order and try to find a seat, you’ll notice conversation is almost encouraged as the seating is close together and limited to a few tables. This persistence of social interaction, albeit somewhat forced, seems to be a theme, and whether accidental or not, I felt comfortable and really enjoyed it. If you’re not into engaging a stranger and prefer solidarity while tapping on your mobile (which seems a to be an increasingly depressing norm), you’ll at least find the funky music flowing from the record player to be a distinct and refreshing change from some other coffeehouses.

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I would describe Anthology then much like the space out of which it operates; it’s out of the ordinary and conducts itself in a fashion much like an experiment. Further evidence of this is found in the serve-ware. I saw some coffee prepared and delivered in a 500mL Erlenmeyer flask, while the cream arrived in its own test tube.

The people behind Anthology have established themselves as a spirited spot to grab a cup of coffee. The atmosphere is bright and energetic, while the place as a whole deserves acknowledgment for its creativity. The location is definitely hidden from the casual passerby, although it’s not out of the way entirely if you’re anywhere near downtown Detroit. It’s simply tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, away from the hustle. I would include this spot in your midweek plans if you’re feeling sluggish and could use a lift to make it through to Friday.

Quiet Contradiction

If you trace Michigan Avenue westbound from downtown Detroit you will notice a continued revival of the oldest surviving neighborhood in the city–Corktown. Once represented by a majority of Irish immigrants, Corktown roughly takes its name from County Cork, Ireland, from where these newly pledged Americans made their mass emigration following the Great Famine of the 1840’s. Corktown saw its neighborhood reduced mid-20th century after land redevelopment and business relocation efforts gave way to projects such as the old Tiger Stadium (since demolished), Michigan Central Station (since abandoned) and Lodge and Fisher Freeways.

Nowadays, some of the best eateries Detroit offers have begun to twist their way through Michigan Avenue; one of the best examples is Slow’s Bar BQ, which opened in 2005 and is now anchoring what has become a food-loving corridor. Many others followed suit and
have since made this stretch of Corktown a popular destination for locals and out-of-towners alike.

The revival of this area drew enough attention that in 2011, a pair of burgeoning coffee devotees opened Astro Coffee. International experience, like at the esteemed London Monmouth Coffee Company, has given the owners ample exposure to the industry and international experience they needed to open a now highly revered coffee shop.

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Blending antique furnishings with modern fixtures, the
space inside the shop reflects the same characteristics as the neighborhood itself. The design feels deliberate, especially with the choice of materials.You will notice the mismatched wooden tables and chairs woven together with expansive new white countertops and subway tiling; wood flooring and exposed brick give heightened contrast to modern pendant lighting and sleekly polished coffee machinery.

Astro Coffee really delivers with its friendly, relaxed and down-to-earth attitude. In a modern coffee world often predicated on snobbery and intimidation, Astro Coffee then is a distinct revelation in showmanship and quality, without a whiff of arrogance.

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Knowing that the two creators had practiced their craft abroad, specifically for a time in Sydney, I opted for their flat white. For those unaware, this specialty is relatively new to the US consumer and is often the point of some controversy.

img_0229You can find heaps of sources on the proper way to prepare one and the location as to its origins. The hottest debate fixes the flat white originator in the 1980’s between Sydney, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand. I found my flat white to be controversy-free and delicious; the warmth and vibrancy of the orange colored beverage provided the perfect balance to a frigid and grey Detroit Sunday. So, if you’re in the Corktown neighborhood and wish to be delighted, stop by Astro Coffee. The approachable style and developed craft make it a genuinely fun experience.