Starbucks, Union Ave & Ainslie Street NW, Williamsburg
In Minnesota, there is a room so quiet that no one can stand more than forty minutes inside it. The ears, usually constantly busy hearing things you will repeat over and over on a loop while you’re trying to get to sleep, start to search for other things to hear. Your heart, your breathing, your hair slowly falling out. It’s not that this Starbucks is so deathly quiet—the Buena Vista Social Club is laid back but hardly quiet—but it hyperbaric with the air of displacement that it hardly feels like you’re anywhere. Outside, it’s the usual jagged collection of mismatched architectural styles that has earned Williamsburg the nickname “The Jewel Of, Well… Williamsburg, I Guess.” Out those windows, it could be sundown in Oak Park, Illinois; the people biking down the street could be on their way to the Venice Boardwalk. The neighborhood is so poorly lit that the Starbucks becomes entirely self-contained after dark, unmoored from space and—by association—time. It’s the grocery store from The Mist only with worse creatures from stranger dimensions carousing unseen outside.
You have to pee, but you’re worried there’s no bathroom here, and if there is, someone’s opened a pop-up taco stand in it.
The building itself is a wedge, a triangle forced into existence by poor city planning. That’s weirding you the fuck out, for sure. There’s a line of counter seating by the Union Avenue window, a continuous bench on the… Ainslie (?) Street, a little blind alcove with counter seats in the corner, and in the center of the place, a long table with too many seats to be comfortable and three stand-alone tables. Standing alone outside, you almost enjoy a smoke before you realize you can see through the entire building through the windows of Starbucks, and the geometry is all fucked up. You look away and there’s a La Quinta Inn & Suites down the street. You could be in some shitty beach town in Spain. Further down, there’s the infamous neon glow of Kellogg’s, the 70s era diner sitting about the L/G subway stop. You could be back home in suburban New Jersey. It’s impossible to know where you are.
Everyone here is bummed out, working. That’s it: the place is too quiet. Not a single conversation is going on, at least not until the currently crumpled-up kid with the lazy voice gets a call and starts wandering around the place in about thirty minutes, and he certainly will.
It’s a diverse crowd, at least, to the point where you’re not comfortable even listing what groups are represented throughout the night, because you’re not even entirely sure. And only some of them have irritatingly intentional haircuts, including the gawky cell phone talker with his Lego bouffant.
The demographic of Men With Plumber’s Butt is represented and sitting at the window with an older lady, both with earbuds in, him at a computer, her softly (but not softly enough) singing some atonal melody along with YouTube videos.
Women Who Have No Problem Kicking Off Their Shoes In A Public Restaurant are here to make their voices known, sitting right next to Dudes Who Still Wear Sandals When It’s 65 Degrees Out. There are People Who Cough Open-Mouthed Like Fucking Cats and Baristas Who Put Spotify On Even Though They Haven’t Paid To Remove The Ads. All t-shirt tightnesses are represented, too, as well as yoga pants and normal adult pants, Macs and PCs, denim jackets and pre-distressed denim jackets.
It’s impossible to know where you are, what’s outside of this singular pizza slice of American pie.
Men with Bowl Cuts So Precise, So To-The-Skin, That He Might Be A Squirrel Enjoying A Jape By Wearing An Acorn As A Hat are accounted for. Dressed in all black, his slacks rolled up to mid-calf, his black socks at half-mast above his undeniably orthopedic boots, you’re sure if you followed him home, he’d lead you straight to a hidden hipster Jonestown, where everyone is literally going to die, figuratively speaking. He has a set of different color Sharpies, a stapled-together list, a notepad, and a Teavana, whatever that it. Some sort of Cuba-connected commune, probably. He favors the blue Sharpie, so you think he might be all right.
He looks bummed out. He looks like he could use some of those eyebrows you’re always trimming because how did that grow that long since the last time you looked at your eyebrows?
Attractive Girls are in attendance, but none that are age-appropriate. That’s the one demographic the place seems to be missing. Or maybe they are age-appropriate. How old are they? How old are you? How old does everyone feel right now? It’s impossible to tell.
You start thinking about how much iced latte and muffins you’ve eaten in the pursuit of finding better Starbucks locations than this, and not because anyone here or around here is particularly skinny. All sizes are represented, too. You’re bummed out and not sure where you are. It’s impossible to tell. Is this the continental breakfast buffet at La Quinta? The bench seating is cutting off circulation to the leg you’ve got hooked underneath the other.
No one’s talking, you can’t see outside, parts of you are starting to fall asleep. Where is this place? Where are you? It’s impossible to tell.
The doors open, and you hear conversation, finally: it’s a coven of 13-year-olds, the cell phone is blasting music, the bent flutes they call larynxes sounding out the call of a flurry of dying birds. The monsters are inside the grocery store now. Time to see what’s in the mist outside.
You notice a goodish number of outlets on the Union side on your way out, so there’s that.
1 star. Union Avenue and Ainslie Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bathroom code: “FREETACOS”