Cleveland Coffee Shops: A Guide for Freelancers

At a certain point in one’s freelance career, somewhere between “sweet, I can work from home in my pajamas!” and renting, like, Real Office Space, there’s the coffee shop.

Coffee shops provide many of the benefits of an office without the risks. You get to leave your house, drawing a distinct line between work and personal life. You get to bump into others in the same casual way you do in an office. (This part’s even better than in an office because the people you see constantly rotate. No more glare-offs with Lily from Accounting.)

And while you pay for the space in the form of coffee and scones and generous tips so the baristas don’t hate you, you forego the ongoing burden of rent and utilities and maintenance.

After two and a half years as a freelancer in Cleveland, I’ve noticed certain shops work best for certain types of tasks. Some are good for indulging my unshaven, jeans-and-T-shirt creative side. Others are better for approximating Clark Kent-style corporate realness.

The new Phoenix Coffee in Ohio City -- for now, great for taking refuge

The new Phoenix Coffee in Ohio City — for now, great for taking refuge

Some provide just the right ratio of bustle to peacefulness to facilitate work. Others are hectic enough to make me just give up and talk to people — an important part of accidental marketing.

Here, then, are my observations to date. I share them in the hope that they’ll help other freelancers navigate the city’s large and growing-larger collection of caffeine purveyors!

*Disclaimers: This overview covers shops in the city and inner-ring suburbs because that’s where I mostly travel. It also leaves out some great newer shops, such as Pour in downtown Cleveland, simply because I haven’t visited often enough yet to get a feel for them.*


Best Coffee Shop for…

Accidental Networking (West Siders)
Gypsy Beans & Baking Co.
Seemingly all of the near west side and Lakewood convenes here for morning meetings or work sessions. Even if you don’t have one scheduled yourself, hanging out here is a fantastic way to keep in casual touch with friends and collaborators.

Accidental Networking (East Siders)
Dewey’s Coffee Café, Shaker Square; or The Stone Oven, Lee Road location
Same deal as the two spots above, except on the East Side. Dewey’s is also fun because it’s like the coffee shop version of a mullet. One side is all business, while the other’s a party — ice cream and popcorn for everyone!

Pretending to Write
Phoenix Coffee, Lee Road location
A lot writers and local literati hang out at this shop, so it’s easy to feel like you’re being productive by extension. Except you aren’t, because you’re too busy eavesdropping on the halfway-pretentious conversation at the table next to you and thinking about buying a Big Cookie. Still, that’s fun too.

Actually Writing
The downstairs is a beehive, but squirrel yourself away at one of the tables upstairs and you can escape for hours  to your happy place. Or at least your productive place.

Nestling in for a Cozy Winter Afternoon
On the Rise Bakery
I once spent a snowy afternoon in this tiny bakery, huddled up against a steamy window as the smell of baking bread filled the air. It was a lovely, cocoon-like experience, a perfect antidote to the midwinter doldrums. As a bonus, the shop offers delicious sandwiches on its homemade bread. No wifi, so it’s a great place to force yourself to do offline work such as reading.

Getting Absolutely WIRED! Right Now!
Rising Star Coffee (Ohio City and soon-to-open Little Italy)
For my money, this locally owned roaster serves the most potent coffee in the city. Take home one of their growlers of toddy and you’ll never sleep again!! The only drawback is that the Ohio City shop has minimal seating, so you can’t park yourself for long.

Check out Rising Star Coffee in Hingetown when you need !caffeine! fast

Check out Rising Star Coffee in Hingetown when you need !caffeine! fast

Taking Refuge
Algebra Tea House
Gnarly wooden tables, a real fireplace and a random selection of for-sale household goods set this place a world apart from anywhere else — in a good way. It’s also the quietest shop in the city, seldom even playing music, so it’s great for serious concentrating.

Phoenix Coffee, Ohio City location
For now, the local chain’s newest shop — not even open a month — is a quiet haven in the middle of bustling Ohio City. Inside, natural light and wood surfaces soothe the soul, and there’s also a lovely patio. Take advantage now before it begins its inevitable ascension to hotspot.

Indulging in a Little 90s Nostalgia
Civilization (Tremont), The Coffee House (University Circle) or Koffie Cafe (Ohio City)
The present-day coffeehouse aesthetic is airy, minimalist, with furniture all of wood and steel. But if you miss the dark shellacked tables, dim lighting and gritty floors of the 90s-era coffeehouse, check out one of these stalwarts.

Finishing Left-Brained Tasks
Any Starbucks
Maybe because Starbucks itself is so corporate, I do really well finishing up corporatey kinds of tasks at their multiple locations. If you’ve got a stack of papers to grade, some budgeting to finish, or a million emails to tackle, this place provides a pleasantly predictable, active-but-not-hectic milieu. The Clifton location is also the friendliest, most neighborhood-feeling Starbucks in town.

Eating the Most Delicious Lunch Ever
The Root
I mean, come on. Tempeh with pesto, spinach and chipotle aioli, on oil-soaked fancy toast? I can’t get enough. And we haven’t even talked about the desserts. The coffee is no slouch either.

Feeling Continental
Cafe Ah-Roma
T-shirted, flip-flopped CSU students aside, this place cultivates a high-brow feel thanks to the classical music constantly tinkling forth on the stereo. After a stint here, you’ll feel ready to hop a flight to The Continent.

Taking a Staycation to Portland
The Root
The hip baristas, vegan food and electrifyingly good coffee are just the start. My favorite Portlandia moments here are the vaguely admonishing signs explaining why the shop doesn’t offer artificial sweeteners, and requesting that you compost all food waste.

A Much-Needed Dose of Slap-Happiness
Koko Bakery
You’ve slaved all week and your face has settled into what feels like a permanent computer grimace. Head on over to Koko Bakery in Asiatown, where the manic Japanese pop music and sugary (and delicious) pastry and bubble tea will have you performing an impromptu crazy-dance. You won’t seem out of place at all.

Engaging in Passive Social Activism
Bridgeport Café
Tucked into a spiffy strip center in the Kinsman neighborhood, this shop serves coffee and fresh, healthy food in an especially disinvested part of town. Managed in part by a nonprofit neighborhood group, it employs local residents, offers healthy cooking classes  and uses vegetables from farms in the city’s nearby urban agriculture district.

Taking a Break from “The Scene”
Dunkin’ Donuts
Tired of coffee snobbery, or just running into all your friends and work contacts all the time? Take refuge in a DD, where you’ll likely be the only one dining in anyway. Also, one time the guy (and yes I do mean guy, not barista) at the Euclid shop gave me a free egg wrap.

Feeling Part of Something Special
Cleveland Tea Revival
This tiny place crystallizes all the rejuvenated energy of Ohio City’s Hingetown neighborhood. The varieties of tea dazzle, but even cooler is the fact that everyone who comes through the door seems interesting. In their own… unique… way.

Hatching a Creative Collaboration
Erie Island Coffee
Outwardly, this downtown spot doesn’t scream “creative hotbed,” but I’ve kicked off several satisfying creative team-ups here. Perhaps it’s the dark interior that shuts out distractions, or simply its location right in the middle of the city, convenient for bringing together folks from all over town.

I’m always on the lookout for new spots — so if I’m missing anything, let me know!


  1. John
    Posted 4 September, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    AJ Rocco’s on Huron & E.9. Anothe local roaster and the only coffee shop that morphs into a bar.

    E.9 Phoenix

    Artefino in the TowerPress building

    And csu campus on E.30 & Euclid Java Zone – newish spot with veg friendly menu

  2. jgville
    Posted 19 September, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Nice adds, John! Thanks. :)

  3. Posted 12 January, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Erie Island in Rocky River is nice, though it can get crowded. (It’s the homier version of E 4th.)

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