There are worse places to drink a beer than between an argument about feudalism and a slice of cassata cake. Or between skateboarding hipsters and a pack of classical music fans. Or between a weekday viewing of European football and a children's book illustrator hard at work on her sketches.
These are but a few of Caffe Aroma's many beautiful differences. It is all of these things, on top of being an Italian-style coffee shop, and on top of being located at the greatest corner for people-watching in the Elmwood Village. But it is so much more.
It's maybe the most unique place you can enjoy a drink. And that's saying something in this town.
While its selection of premium beers (mostly in bottles with a handful on tap), red and white wines (courtesy the caffe's sister wine store, Vino Aroma), and cocktails (yes! A liquor license in a coffee shop!) are of thoughtful curation, it is most definitely the crowd and location that makes drinking here such a divine experience.
A drinking establishment -- every bar, pub, alehouse, microbrewery, wine bar, and bus stop within earshot will prove this -- is nothing without its company. Here you'll find an assortment of wildly different people at different stages of life. They're cramped into a small and awkward space, able to overhear almost anyone's conversation, and sit there for hours on end.
Don't go with secrets, unless you plan on drinking them away.
I've never noticed a typical bar crowd here. You don't see groups of students pre-gaming their all-night bender here. Just a room (and two patios, if you're lucky to snag a seat) of talkative people who like a good Manhattan with their New York Times.
Considering that your bartender might also be a barista, slinging coffee by morning and mixing cocktails by night, it's not uncommon to find a modified vocabulary behind the bar. But everyone is easygoing, serviceable and nice.
It's really a coffee shop, you see. A coffee shop with morning regulars whose mugs are filled before they meet the cashier. Fresh-baked scones in the display case. The morning paper sectioned out all over. One of those places.
But come lunchtime, the beer starts flowing. A tall glass of IPA on tap, or a bottle of a refreshing Schneider Weisse, "the Original Hefeweizen," will do just fine. Or a house cocktail, like one recent Thursday night offering: The Swinger, with vodka, orange juice, Disaronno and lime. I'll have three. (Look for a great drawing on the chalkboard for these rotating specials.)
They'll put the booze in a mug if you want, like their Italian, Irish, Gaelic or French coffee cocktails. Or a bottle of sparkling Prosecco. Or a gluten-free lager. Or a Peroni on draft.
It's cinematic, both the location and the offerings. The gin martini-and-Hemingway crowd evokes a salon scene out of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," the director's outward neuroses about pop culture included. The craft beer-and-pizza crowd is out of an American Apparel ad, or "(500) Days of Summer," that too-hip dramedy full of skinny jeans and fixed-wheel bikes.
Every day isn't so dramatic, of course. It's not exclusive here, even if you'd like the premium beer selection to come with a glossary. It's approachable and friendly, just specific. You come here to talk about ideas, to think about your day, and to make something out of it all. Bounce opinions back and forth with a stranger; you might just find yourself a new friend.
> Caffe Aroma
957 Elmwood Ave. (884-4470, www.thearomagroup.com)
Bar hours: Until midnight Sunday through Thursday; to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Drinks: Bottled beers (including gluten-free) plus a few on draft, signature cocktails, wine.
Scene: Plugged-in urbanites of all ages, chatting about art, politics, books and beer.