Walk into the Coffee Bar, an industrial-looking building at Bryant and Mariposa streets, and all you see is a row of laptops with faces hidden behind them.
As I climb the stairs, few look up from their screens. Most are plugged into the web; others are gathering ideas at their morning business meetings.
At least 20 people on laptops (mostly MacBooks), iPads and smart phones are plugged in — some at the individual tables, others at communal tables, all in their own worlds.
This place means business.
Cell phones buzz, keyboards tap and the Beatles croon over the stereo system. The barista shouts, “Who ordered the Americano?”
Ross Siegal quit his job at Yahoo a week ago and is already a Coffee Bar regular.
“I’m taking my time to get the right job, not any job,” he says, checking e-mail while keeping an eye on his puppy back home via webcam.
“Everyone here is starting a site,” he says. His project (with friends), called Bachelor10, is for anyone who wants to plan a bachelor party.
The communal tables are filling up.
They are meant to encourage community, “forcing people out of their comfort zones,” says Jason Paul, co-owner of the Coffee Bar.
A man at one end, wearing a formal shirt and trousers, has just finished an interview, and packs up his laptop to leave.
In the other corner, Chris Colin, a freelance journalist, fact-checks a story for the New York Times. “I always wonder what everyone is doing. Sometimes I sneak a glance,” he says.
Colin has an office but likes to come here for a change, and his wife works nearby. He also frequents Ritual on Valencia Street and Sugarlump on Mission Street, but “they aren’t as start-uppy.”
Co-owner Paul works at lightning speed, styling the foam on cappuccinos into hearts. He and Luigi Di Ruocco started the business in 2007 to create a retail arm for Mr. Espresso, a wood-roasted coffee company that Di Ruocco’s family owns.
“Customers like a place where they have a connection,” Paul says.
Utilitarian and multipurpose is how he describes it, with a power outlet for every table, free wi-fi, coffee and gourmet food. In the evenings there’s also alcohol.
It’s worked for some, he says. The guys who started Xoopit, a tech company acquired by Yahoo in 2009, drank coffee here.
The signs on some tables specify that they’re “laptop-free” from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The signs, Paul says, were put up for the lunch crowd, usually corporate types who eat and leave in under an hour. And those who will camp out here from 7 a.m. to the end of the day have other tables. Sometimes, Paul says, the latter are the best customers.
Others get “feisty” when asked to put away their laptops, but “we try to calm them down and bring them back to reality,” he says.
Robert Stang, president of Pacific Park Management and a regular even when this was Arc Cafe, says he heard that someone once set up their whole desktop here.
“Who wants to sit at home and work on their computer alone?”
As one customer says later, “The distraction helps me focus.”
The lunch crowd is quickly gathering. Laptops are being shoved back into their cases; some of the left-over morning crowd is contemplating moving to one of the communal tables, where laptops are allowed, but don’t find any.
Sarah, an environmental educator who does not want to share her last name, is one of the lucky few to get a spot at a laptop table. She was here early. She came here for the first time two years ago, and stays at least three hours when she comes, usually in the mornings to meet her friends for coffee. It’s “perfect,” she says.
But today, “It’s my office for the day. I am here till four. I have a lot of work to do.”