The Starbuck’s revolution gave many people a renewed love of coffee houses, but in Carbondale, it’s long-time city landmark The Longbrach that is the best coffee house in town.
Carbondale has a Barnes & Noble, so there is a Starbuck’s cafe there and there is a Starbuck’s on the campus of Southern Illinois University, but the real appeal of coffee and coffeehouses in this university city is more old school.
The Longbranch has been a part of the Carbondale community for decades and though it has some recent competition, it is still the preferred location for coffee drinkers and late night study groups. The Longbranch is also a center for arts and intellectual discussion, featuring regular get togethers to discuss community events, salsa -dancing on Saturday nights, and regular exhibits from local artists.
The Branch, as it is sometimes called, features regular open-mic nights were patrons hear everything from first-hand accounts of the harrowing tragedies in Rawanda to new age fusion jazz and poetry. The restaurant also boasts that it is the oldest in Carbondale with a purely vegetarian cuisine, offering Italian-style veggie pizzas, vegen baked goods and the best grilled cheese around with three kinds of cheese and fresh tomatoes.
Baked good vary daily but often included Italian Creme Cake and blueberry muffins as well as cookies and other simple treats. The coffee is top-notch, as our the other specialty drinks ranging from lattes and hot chocolate with real whipped cream to fresh squeezed lemonade, tea blends and fruit smoothies made with tofu and honey.
The backroom at the Branch is usually reserved for philosophical discussions, performances and on Saturday nights, salsa dancing. Instructors help beginners with salsa and merengue from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. and dancing continues until midnight.
The front room of the branch is the smoking section and where most people congregate to work on school projects, discuss the latest in Carbondale politics, and just relax with a hot cup of coffee. It is a particularly favorite hang out for writers in the area as the staff is willing to simply let people hang out and do their thing. The entire place is self-serve, except the patio outside, though they will bring food out from the bar to your table. In the spring and fall, the deck outside can be very nice, if there aren’t trains coming by. In the winter, it’s generally too cold to sit outside and in the summer, way too hot.
The atmosphere at The Longbranch is warm and inviting, often prompting people who have never met before to engage in spirited discussions and it is home to a very activist clientele, often circulating petitions for community preservation efforts and other worthwhile causes.
In recent years, two other coffeehouses have grown up in Carbondale and offer alternatives to the old guard, adding to the variety and opportunity for lingering discussions over coffee and dessert. On The strip, there is Melange, a completely smoke-free coffeehouse often featuring educational groups from the university, including opportunities to meet and discuss other languages and cultures.
The Newell House is the snob of the three coffeehouses, with a liquor license as well, serving nice meals, generally leaning Italian and wine and cheese in addition to the standard coffeehouse fare. The prices are a bit higher at Newell House and it seems to be the more trendy, though less popular than The Longbranch, younger sister of the older, wiser coffeehouse.
The Longbranch still appeals to aging hippies and young ones, as that’s where its roots are, but every new crop of college students eventually finds its way to the Branch.
During midterms and finals, it can be hard to get a table as students pump coffee into their stomachs and some sort of class information into their brains.
It probably remains more popular than the other two coffeehouses because of the laid-back style and atmosphere of the owners as well as the late night hours. Whatever the reason, The Longbranch has survived the new era of coffeehouses and remains true to itself while remaining the top coffeehouse in Carbondale.