Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Coffee is Dead...Long Live the Coffee

Barnie's Coffee and Celebration...they go together like Mickey and Minnie, like Donald and Daisy, like Florida and hurricanes (well, okay, maybe not the last one). Barnie's has been an icon on the corner of Front and Bloom Streets since the early days of our town. It was a spot where you could always get a hot or cold drink to sip in the shady courtyard or in one of the rockers by the lake. It had such a hometown feel; you'd almost always see at least one familiar face.

It became a comfortable and familiar part of our lives; my husband loved their wonderful flavored coffee beans, and I switched off between Coolers and smoothies as my favored libation. Even before we moved to Celebration permanently, we often stopped at Barnie's for a consolation treat as we headed for the airport to return to Chicago. I even managed to get an Illinois co-worker hooked on Barnie's beans, and I'd bring her a stash back regularly (in the Chicago 'burbs, the flavored-coffee fad died out a long time ago, so flavored beans are not available fresh in coffee have to settle for the grocery store variety).

Once we made the move to Celebration, our house was almost always fragranced with the scent of Cool Cafe Blues, Santas White Chocolate, or another tempting flavor that was brewing up in the coffee pot. On Sunday mornings, I would have felt naked if I'd slipped into a pew at Com Pres without a carmel or vanilla cooler to give me my morning jolt of sugar-fueled energy.

But sadly, Barnie's has become another page in the Downtown Celebration ancient history book, alongside Goodings, renting paddle boats on the lake, and the availability of legal parking. It closed its doors forever on Sunday, September 27th, at 3PM. Most Barnie's locations have been bought out by Starbucks, and I'm told it will take about 9 weeks for the build-out/conversion. (Since this is Celebration, we can probably expect Starbucks to open sometime in mid 2007.) Starbucks is okay, but they don't have flavored coffee (I don't count the kind that is made with syrup...the flavor has to be in the beans or its not the real thing).

On that melancholy last Sunday, we were running late to church. But no matter what, I knew that I had to have one last Barnie's beverage in homage to the end of an era. We parked by Com Pres, and husband staked out a spot in the sanctuary while I rushed off to Bloom Street on foot. If all went well, I figured that I could make it back just before the opening hymn. No such luck! There was a crowd of people in front of me, and they were more interested in shooting the breeze about the closing than in actually placing/receiving their coffee order. I began to suspect that I wasn't going to have a last Cooler after all because their conversation seemed likely to last till the 3 p.m. closing time. Finally they got down to business, and once they were out of their way, I was able to place my final order of the era.

As I waited for my drink, I glanced around at the sparse interior that had once been a crowded, bustling coffee shop, with shelves of beans and various accessories. The cooler where baked goods had once sung their tempting siren songs was empty, and the walls looked as though looters had rampaged through town. I had gradually been getting used to the emptiness, as the shop had been a bit more sparse with each of my resent visits. But still, to know that it as D-Day added a special layer of sadness.

I hustled out the door, precious Cooler in hand, and galloped past the lake, through the Farmer's Market, around the corner, and across the street to the Com Pres compound. The first hymn had already started as I tried to slink in unobtrusively. I knew that God would find it in His heart to forgive me, and probably our pastor, too, since Barnie's plays an important role in the history of Community Presbyterian.

With Barnie's now officially closed, my husband jealously guarded his shrinking stash of beans in the pantry, but finally they dwindled away to critical levels. We had heard a rumor that the Barnie's in Dr. Phillips would remain open, so we took a jaunt out there (it was good excuse for lunch at Too Jays). The good news was: There was, indeed, a Barnie's, and it was still open. But there was bad news: We had quite literally stumbled across its very last day of existence.

This store looked even more forlorn than the Celebration Barnie's. It was stripped bare, save for a minisule stash of beans, and they hadn't even bothered to turn on the lights. The last-day customers were huddled in the darkness, drinking their farewell beverages in the shadowy gloom like something out of a Dickens novel. Although the selection was sparse, hubby did manage to find some suitable flavors to keep us going till we found a new "dealer."

Happily, we've discovered that the Barnies in the Loop shopping center is (supposedly) not closing, so we'll see...

But in the meantime, I have discovered a brand-new flavored coffee fix. My husband likes to grind and brew his fresh, but being a lazy sort, I prefer to buy it ready made. I discovered a heavenly flavored brew in the seemingly most unlikely of places: The Mobile gas station in the Water Tower Place shopping center at the entrance to Celebration.

Mobile has its own story...a few months back, it had a fire (supposedly from a lightning strike) that shut it down for months. I never realized just how often I patronized that station until it was gone. My fellow displaced Celebration residents and I wandered in confusion to the Race Trac station across the street, only to be swallowed alive in the constant quagmire of tourists who make getting a gas pump an extreme competitive sport. And even if it were not a crowded Hell on Earth, many of us don't like to cross 192 merely on principle. That requires leaving The Bubble, which we try to avoid as much as possible.

Finally we heard that Mobile was reopening. Better yet, they were handing out free mugs and coffee to celebrate their return to business. I'm a sucker for a freebie, so I headed over with a friend. Sure enough, not only were they giving mugs...

...but they were offered in two choices of designer colors/motiffs:

As a part of the deal, you could fill up your mug with your choice of free beverage. In the past, I had never bothered to enter the Mobile store. I'd purchase gas using my charge card at the pump and zoom off without any human contact. Little did I know that the innocent looking facade housed a wonderland of caffeinated delights.

It was like being a kid in a candy shop. My friend and I flitted from machine to machine, sampling everything from hot cocoa and Mint Chocolate Oreo cappucino to freshly brewed blueberry coffee! I've had flavors ranging from Bananas Foster to Chocolate Orange, but that was exotic even for me.

I finally settled on nice, conservative hazelnut, and it was so good! No more need to look for a new source was identified. I just hope that lightning doesn't strike twice and burn the store again!

Now, hazelnut is my drug of choice, although I do waver and indulge in vanilla when I'm feeling particularly gutsy. I still haven't worked up the nerve to down a whole mug of blueberry, though. This month, I noticed that they also do seasonal flavors, and I highly recommend the pumpkin spice to any fellow coffee affeciandos who might have a Mobile nearby.

That Mobile is also a bastion of freebies. I don't even bother to use my mug for discounted refills because they are currently selling 20 ounce coffees for half price, which is even cheaper than the refill price. Better yet, they are handing out coupon books loaded with gratis items when you purchase a coffee. Want a breakfast sandwich? How about a baked good? Just make your choice, flip to the appropriate coupon, pony up less than $1 for your coffee, and it's yours for the asking. Today I was too late for breakfast sandwiches, but I got a fragrant cinnamon bun to compliment my hazelnut nectar from Heaven.

Thus, one coffee source has died out, but another has risen quite literally like a phoenix from the ashes to take its place. Mobile might not be as quaint as Barnie's, but I am a flavored coffee 'ho. I'll just have to learn to get up earlier for church, since Water Tower is a farther jaunt than downtown. Ah, the sacrifices I make for my addiction!

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Two4Disney said...

So sad to hear about so many Celebration closings but happy to know you found a coffee substitute. I wonder if Barnie's will stay open in the Florida Mall? It's just huge.

Barb said...

Unfortunately, that one is becoming a Starbucks too.

Anonymous said...

All the mall Barnie's are being converted, but the ones that are half wine bars (like the Loop and the one across the street from the Florida Mall, by Petco) are supposed to stay open. The flavored-bean fad has left Florida, too.

maddie said...

if you think you travelled around for a Barnies fix (pumpkin spice & cinnamon butter cookie being my all time favs) imagine how we felt after travelling 4,500 miles from the uk only to find i couldn't get my supplies for back home.However, we called at at the English Tea shop 3 doors away in Celebration and had a pleasant coffee and conversation with the owner.

K said...

I just had my first experience with Barnie's coffee over Thanksgiving. My husband's cousin in Indy was brewing coffee and I had to follow that delectable aroma up the stairs and around the corner!! It was the first time I'd actually LUSTED for coffee. Let me tell you, those were the best two cups of coffee I've ever had!! I ransacked their fridge to find the name of the beans and it was Barnie's N.O. Cool Cafe Blues. What a heavenly aroma!! I ordered three bags of the stuff as soon as I reached home and I can't WAIT to brew my own. Only question is: his cousin ground whole beans to brew and I ordered pre-ground. Oh well. I hope it tastes as good!!! You should order your heart's desire too. Barnie's has a website!!!!

John LaVine said...

As a former FLoridian, I well remember every mall having a Barnies coffee. I moved to Texas and thought they'd faded out. THe other night, a rep for Standard coffee distributors told me that Barnies had been run by the older generation of a family, who have now retired or passed on, whatever, but that their grown children have taken over and have plans to aggressively expand...or will Starbucks take over!?

Ali said...

Barnies as a store front may be gone, but if you go to you can still order your beans!!! I live in NM, we lived in Avon Park FL in the 80s and early ninties and the first thing I got hooked on was Barnies. I am so glad I can still get my beans!!! I HATE Starbucks and that's all we have out here in NM.......Sorry to see the store fronts close but we do have it online, all is not totally lost. PS, I've been ordering coffee on-line since 1996. It's the same quality coffee I was getting in the stores. In most flavors you can get either whole bean or ground too.

Anonymous said...

Barnie's still around! Please don't think we're leaving! I managed the Celebration location for nearly a year and we loved our Celebration customers. Please check out to see "where we're at"! Sue