It is 4 am Sunday morning in Lawrence and you're looking for somewhere to chill. Since you don't want to be in a greasy restaurant full of farmers who just woke up, the decision goes against Perkins, and in favor of the Java Break. Upon arrival you walk around the building to the door, and go on down the steps into the little concrete pit. After stepping into the acrid, espresso-infused atmosphere, you queue up behind a middle aged fellow wearing a great deal of wool. While he is served, you study the menu over the register, and wonder what it will be tonight. White cow? Snickers? Brian's Fondue? A Bomb-Pop Soda? Irish Nut? The sweetly notorious Sex Bomb? Upon further thought, you decide on a simple double iced latte.
After a minute or so, the grey-haired man gets his plain java and walks towards the back. There's a cute young blond thing behind the counter, and although her work-shirt says Carl, you're pretty sure that's not her name. The spiked hair, horn-rimmed glasses indie rock kid jamming on the espresso machine asks what you'd like, and you tell him. It's done quick, and when the girl asks for your money you notice her odd (Norwegian? Danish?) accent. Change is tendered, and immediately dropped into the tip jar -- "Tip or I will steal your soul!" advises the cut-out monk glued to the front.
Holding the translucent plastic cup by its rim, you wind towards the back. On your way through the first door, the canary yellow flyer for an upcoming Arab Strap show briefly catches your eye. In the vestibule there are three racks of clothes which toe the fine line between trendy and tacky with aplomb. One doorway leads to Flush, the connected store full of more of the same. Another is open to the non-smoking room, with floor to ceiling shelves of hard and paper bound books to read at one's leisure. You skip them both in favor of the third door, which leads into the smoking room.
If any single room represents all that this coffeehouse has to offer, this is the one. Weezer's on the speakers, or maybe it's Neutral Milk Hotel, playing softly. One booth is full of teenagers, giggling and gleefully happy to be out much later than their mothers would prefer. Another, across the room, holds the aforementioned grey-haired fellow, sitting across from a twenty-something guy of apparently Chinese descent; a chessboard lies in between them, and they are silent. One table is taken by an attractive but exhausted-looking young woman grading papers beneath the dim yellow 25 watt lamp light. Seated across from her is her boyfriend, his face reflecting sickly green pallor from a laptop computer. While you're taking this all in, an older lady drops her spent chai into the wastebasket by the door, and slips past you gracefully.
One empty table; one dog-eared copy of Snow Crash; one cigarette; one double iced latte; and yourself. Briefly, you notice the striking contrast between the smell of tobacco smoke and the ionized air coming from the purifier in the corner. The first sip of coffee breaks that train of thought with its crisp, fresh taste. You are at peace.
If you haven't already guessed it, the JB is something of a microcosm of the entire town of Lawrence. It has an excellent cross section of hippies, townies, yuppies, geeks, potheads, and so forth, as though it was made for people watching. Oh, and the coffee's nice too.
Located at 17 East 7th St. (between New Hampshire and Massachusetts streets), it's in the heart of downtown, a little piece of the three-coffeehouses-per-block puzzle. It has managed to survive all of the byzantine economic transformations that go down in this area, and is one of the town's oldest coffeehouses. The JB is universally popular, and is open 24 hours a day, serving coffee and filling sandwiches. The owner, Derek Hogan, also runs a used ladies clothing boutique named Flush out of the same building, notable for the spontaneously flushing toilet located within. Hogan has ties to the strong area Queer community, and lesbi-gay-tran folks are just as welcome as us straghties.
Hot and cold coffee drinks are served, made with hot and cold press espresso respectively. I usually buy iced drinks, and choose the complex, dry double latte, which is with unquestionably the town's best. Also good are the Brian's Fondue, a mocha with drizzled chocolate and strawberry syrup, and the Snickers, a mocha with nut-flavored syrup. As for hot drinks, the Sex Bomb lives up to its name, and the hot press espresso is remarkably smooth. The JB also serves panini sandwiches until midnight, which is also when Flush closes. The Devil's Picnic sandwich comes highly recommended, a chicken panini with Monterey Jack and jalapeno peppers. There are three ancient Macintoshes for internet access, and 802.11 wireless internet access if you can con Derek into giving it to you.
If you visit Lawrence without passing through Java Break, you're missing out.