They face each other from opposite corners of the street. One relatively unassuming, nested on the ground floor of City College’s Mission Campus, the other emblazoned with bright splashes of graffiti, and a motley slew of patrons who take up an increasing portion of the sidewalk as the night wears on.

Thirty paces apart. But the clientele of the two coffee-centric businesses feel strikingly disconnected and, for the most part, patrons have little interest in crossing to the other side.

City College’s Cafe de la Mission

“I bet the City College cafe doesn’t even serve Hemp Ale,” said Vito Capitan, a 21-year-old painter, on his first visit to the Revolution Cafe, punctuating his statement of dismay with feigned exasperation, “F%&@!”

“You’ll get college kids over there, but this is the place to come if you want to meet some hippies,” Capitan continued.

Another patron, Mica Miro, added, “I felt intimidated coming in here. This is a hipster hive. But most everyone’s really friendly.”

A crosswalk and world away from the scent of pot and a homeless man offering hugs for a dollar, Ben Furstenberg at Café de la Mission said that the Revolution is “not really my scene.”

“It’s usually crowded and I’m not that social,” he said from inside the City College’s gates. “I come here to study. It’s more relaxed and unpretentious.”

While the Revolution Cafe’s open façade screams “socialize,” the lounge and cafe for community college students offers a more private, generic space, yet one that even some students don’t find appealing.

“The cafe at the college has a very plain feel,” said Migdalia Valdes, a former student who has taken classes at a number of the school’s campuses around the city. “It’s almost governmental. The Revolution’s vibe is freedom – to be able to express yourself. (At the City College,) it’s colder.”

Others, like Furstenberg, appreciate Café de la Mission for its lack of vibe and the attendant subculture it might otherwise attract.

“I like that it’s not that crowded,” said Paul Korte, who has an English literature class on campus. “There’s no loud music and it’s priced pretty good.”

Regarding the Revolution Cafe, Korte explained, “I don’t really like the vibe there. I’m not a smoker.”

Most of the day, students and staff sit alone in the fluorescent-lit space at a handful of round, plastic tables that could comfortably fit six, heads buried in textbooks, highlighters in hand. Some wander in in pairs, discussing grades and the coming weekend. When each table has been occupied, particularly during the daily lunch rush, students politely ask if they can join where someone is already seated. Some practice speaking in English. Others return to their studies or socialize in Spanish.

But the rush is short-lived. Students return to class or head out for groceries on their way to pick up children from school. The quiet hum of air condition vents can once again be heard over hushed conversations.

At the coffee stand, the four-strong Latino staff munched and mingled in their cramped corner, conversing in Spanish, a small portable radio playing rancheras behind them.

Though Café de la Mission conforms in appearance to expectations of a school cafeteria, it stands out, as with the campus, in serving a heavily immigrant, mostly Latino, population. And without wireless internet, it remains one of the few neighborhood cafes where the sight of a laptop is rare.

Eduardo Brito, a student studying English at the college, elaborated on its appeal, “A lot of nice girls come here. And it is good for studying.”

Certainly there’s little to distract, other than the solicitors who camp out occasionally wheedling students to sign up for credit cards and bank accounts.

But if it’s past 8:30 p.m., when the Mission campus cafe closes, it might be time pack up and head to the Revolution, which stays open well past midnight most days of the week.

On a recent Thursday evening, a jazz quintet set up in the corner of the cafe, candles having long since replaced the fade of sunlight.

A throng of diversions paraded around the dark interior and spilled out onto the sidewalk.

“I can’t imagine being able to study here,” Miro said. “I can’t imagine wanting to.”

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Born in the central valley of Massachusetts and raised in Tidewater Virginia, Garrett attended public schools before graduating from the University of Virginia. Wandering and working in various national parks, tutoring kids on the playgrounds of Dublin, and teaching English to 3rd graders in China eventually led to some temporary confusion, and a re-settling as a community journalist.

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