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Back Buzz - April 14, 2012

pumping heartManhattan Coffee House, 471 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

On a rainy Bank Holiday Monday afternoon when many establishments were closed we set out on what we thought might be a fruitless search for an espresso. Driving along Ecclesall Road we noticed both Caffé Nero and Starbucks were open, so we ventured closer to Hunters Bar and stopped at the intriguingly named Manhattan Coffee House.

As we entered we experienced a strong feeling of deja-vu. This was because we had just walked into what used to be Coffee Revolution, the subject of my very first Sheffield coffeehouse review. Although a bit warmer in decor than Coffee Revolution was, with comfy brown leather chairs and sofas everywhere, Manhattan still feels cold and rushed in a Starbucks-industrial sort of way. Everything in the decor is brown, for some reason, as if coffee houses should be brown because coffee is brown. The place is noisy, with clanging cups and chatter, like one might expect a typical Manhattan cafeteria or diner to be, but without the eclectic mix of customers. Everybody in this place appeared to be university students, or at least they were all young enough to be in university. I did spot one exception: a slightly older woman, sitting by herself and smiling. I got the impression she either lived very close by or else she was a visitor to Sheffield and had popped in on her wanderings. I wasn't about to go over and ask her, because this is definitely not an example of Ray Oldenburg's "great good place", where strangers feel free to converse.

On one wall is a huge quadtych of the Brooklyn Bridge -- printed in brown sepia tones, of course -- which relates Manhattan to Sheffield, as the steel for the Brooklyn Bridge was manufactured in Sheffield. And hopefully someday, after the economy improves a bit, Sheffield will be able to afford to complete its own Brooklyn Bridge project, a miniature pedestrian copy of the bridge which will connect Ball Street to Kelham Island.

But as 50 percent of the Brooklyn Bridge takes people away from Manhattan and not into it, why not have the walls decorated with pictures of distinctly Manhattan attractions like Central Park, Times Square, and Greenwich Village? Even a young Mary Tyler Moore clicking her heels in the snow might lend a New Yorkian aura. As far as I can see, Manhattan Coffee House is about as suggestive of New York as the disappointingly inaptly named New York Deli in my own Sheffield neighbourhood.

Regardless of the atmosphere, we were there to try the coffee. At £2.10 each our double macchiatos were expensive and they were served in oversized black cups that fortunately had white interiors. Andrew was disappointed that there was so much milk foam it obscured the coffee, as he undoubtedly hoped in such a brown-themed coffee house that the espresso would be coloured brown and not white. To give the place credit, we could at least taste the coffee, and it tasted quite good and robust. We considered the possibility that the barista misunderstood and gave us latte macchiatos instead of espresso macchiatos; but because latte macchiatos aren't trendy at all I'm not sure that many Sheffield baristas would know how to make one. I didn't mind it as much as Andrew, because I found it more like the double short dry cappuccinos I used to order in Seattle and which I've all but given up on finding in the UK.

As Andrew continued venting his macchiato rage, and his belief that the milk was fake, I munched my complementary mint and perused the wall menus behind me. The cafe offers typical cafe fare like cakes, pastries, sandwiches, and smoothies, and also teas and a wide range of hot chocolates, as if typical Manhattanites are always seen sipping trendy cocoas. I was puzzled by the two clocks on the wall, one displaying the time in Manhattan and the other the time in Ecclesall Road, as if Ecclesall Road time is different than the rest of Sheffield. Our macchiatos were a lot dearer than the same at Caffé Nero down the road, so perhaps we had entered Eccy Road's own unique time and price zone. Anything's possible in this large-hadron-collider world.

Speaking once again of this postmodern world reminds me of a short e-mail conversation with my Bay Area friend from last year:

On the news last night I saw a bit about the latest robot surgery, and how doctors are hoping it will make minor and common surgeries less invasive so that patients can be sent home from the hospital a lot sooner with fewer complications. And then I saw the future: pop-up Vasectomy and Tubal Ligation kiosks in shopping malls!

Just imagine it - when you're on your lunch period, after picking up some socks at the department store and perhaps a battery at the camera shop, you can stop into the SteriQuick stall where, in a matter of a few minutes, you can have a vasectomy or tubal ligation. And then it's on to Subway to pick up a sandwich, and back to work just in time for the staff meeting!

They could even offer special 2-for-1 deals for XXYs. We could take the scissor design on your Ask Me About My Vasectomy t-shirt and turn it into a logo... Great idea! Maybe the devices could also do a quick genital tattoo while patients are under the knife (and presumably under a nice cloud of anesthesia).