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Bad Robot, No Coffee for You

Coffeehouses in San Francisco used to be bohemian, grimy places where you read the Bay Guardian and there were really bad oil paintings on the walls. That all changed in 2005, when Ritual Coffee Roasters opened on Valencia Street. Ritual roasted its own beans and put out amazing espresso and drip coffee—for high prices. But soon, Ritual was colonized by a robotic race of laptop users. Any time of day, every seat was taken by somebody typing away, Facebooking, trolling Craigslist.

When former Ritual roaster Jeremy Tooker left and started his own place, Four Barrel Coffee, he wanted to take a different path. To discourage laptop usage, he simply supplied no power outlets. Music was piped in not by iPod, but by vinyl: a real, honest-to-God record player. Today they were playing Patsy Cline, then the Beach Boys. "Ritual got to be too quiet and awkward, with everybody looking up from their laptops at you when you walked in the door," says Tooker. "I wanted to bring back more of a café culture."

He succeeded: Four Barrel sees a steady stream of people. Those who stay do old-fashioned things like write in journals, chat, or read books.

The coffee, which they roast in the back of the converted warehouse, is superb. (Many think it is the best in a city that takes coffee way too seriously.) But what Tooker especially pioneered was a certain antique-industrial aesthetic. The counters are hand-poured cement, the windows and shelves, safety glass. The doors are made of reclaimed wood, and the back wall by the record player has old fashioned tapestry-print wallpaper. There are light fixtures made out of bulbs embedded in giant cables of twisted rope. The bathroom has linoleum printed with a forest caribou scene, and a crystal chandelier.

Tooker and his two roaster buddies did everything themselves, for $180,000. "It looks like this because this was what we could do," he says.