Update (01/15/10): 33 Revolutions has closed. No word yet on whether the new record store it’s turning into will serve coffee.
Chowhound is about breadth, not depth. I rarely find it a source of solid recommendations, but it is good place to compile a list of places worthy of further research. Certainly if it weren’t for Chowhound it might have been months before I realized that El Cerrito’s Central Perk, a friendly but not amazing cafe in El Cerrito (still pictured here on Google Maps) had transformed into a groovy new record store/cafe/concert space called 33 Revolutions. Along with Catahoula Coffee, it’s turning this northern strip of San Pablo Avenue into something of a budding coffee scene.
33 Revolution’s coffee is supplied by Ritual Roasters and they mostly do it justice. As I’ve pointed out before, most of the coffee is from Ritual’s older coffee line-up. Also, with its 21-day “consume by” date, you might find yourself purchasing a bag of beans a bit older than you would in Ritual’s own cafes. The day I was there, most bags were just 5 days past the roast with a few bags as high as 12 so pick your beans carefully. Nevertheless, very delicious. The French-pressed-poured-into-airpot Guatemalan El Yalu was not quite the same as I remember it – it was more buttery, sweet and full of caramel – but still very much delicious.
The Sweet Tooth espresso, pulled on a 3-group La Marzocco Linea was good, but a bit darker than the shots I’ve had of it at Ritual. Instead of bright, sweet citrus, I got rich caramelized sugar like the crispy edges on a well-seared steak. It also had some notes of black tea and a more buttery mouthfeel, with a slightly off tobacco aftertaste. I just noticed, however, that Ritual’s espresso has changed again – this time to the Life Savor blend. So, I’m not sure what this means for 33 Revolutions espresso blend.
The multi-faceted business model of 33 Revolutions has lots of promise, but is still in its infancy. The owners are still adding elements, like a liquor license, their menu of largely organic sandwiches and salads, and a line up of concerts. They also face the daunting challenge of making this huge wearhouse-like space, which probably works well for concerts, feel workable as a cafe.
The current approach involves setting up multiple “stations” of activity, like stalls in an open air market. Along the right wall as you enter is the record store part of the business, which houses a few bins of new and used records, vintage rock magazines and other record-playing paraphanilia as well as supplying the music for the cafe. The large T-shaped counter that juts into the room is a major feater unto itself. I kept imagining it with a floor that could serve as a fashion runway or perhaps the point where the lead guitar player drops to his knees for a solo. To the left of the counter, are sundry things for sale, including a hats, local art, new magazines, coffee equipment and whole bean coffees and teas.
The furnishings also follow a the “station” school of design. Scattered seemingly at random are a couple of large tables, one made of glass, surrounded by rolling gray leather chairs and orange fabric covered office chairs, ready for a business meeting, circa 1987. Several yellow, wooden booths sit against one wall like refugees from a vintage-modern diner. There are a few clusters of genuinely attractively modern furniture and then a few clusters of early 90s, ultra-walmart-ugly, thrift store bound couches clustered around, ikea-made coffee tables. The whole collection works, but barely. It doesn’t feel overly precious, kitchy or slick, but also feels something short of coherent.
I’m sure the musical element of this store will have its appeal (hopefully more than this song that I so desperately wanted to work into this review), especially if they expand their offerings of hip, yet family-oriented, musical shows. The neighborhood is exploding with young families who likely want low-key, yet cool entertainment catered to a demographic (mine I think) that also seeks places like the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater a few doors down (beer, A and B movies, food and the Baby Brigade). And if nothing else, you can always go there for a good cup of coffee.