A Gold Star for Gold Bar Espresso
Drink Ordered: Short Nonfat Iced Latte
Coffee Roaster: Allann Bros.
Tea Brand: Republic of Tea
Chai Brand: Big Train
Stamp Card: Yes
Pricing Comparison: $$$
For my first review, I visited a coffee shop in Tempe, tucked away in the back of a strip mall, across from what used to be a Bashas’. With a Starbucks right on the corner, one would think that this tucked away little shop would go completely unnoticed. I’ve driven past it a number of times myself, and had never really noticed it before. What I found most remarkable about this coffee shop was that despite the circumstances of its location, it appeared to be the spot to be.
At first glance, Gold Bar looks like just another of the many dive bars in the area. It’s a seemingly small storefront in a run-down strip mall, with a few tables outside. The only reason to believe it’s anything else from the outside is a couple of small coffee related signs. I was quite surprised with what I saw when I went through the front door. This hidden shop, in a bad location, was crowded. Not overly crowded, mind you, but busy. Almost every table had customers at it. It was immediately apparent that this is an excellent place to get some work done. Almost everyone had laptops out, and were enjoying any array of beverages that this shop offers. The only thing that didn’t surprise me inside was the decor. The tables and chairs were all mismatched, and showed signs of wear. Somehow, this worked for Gold Bar, adding to the charm, rather than distracting from it.
The barista behind the counter was a Hawaiian shirt clad older gentleman, very full of life. He was incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and patient. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy his job. Even when my 2-year-old spilled his drink, or when another customer spilled hers, he seemed more than happy to be serving each customer who entered the shop. During my visit, the flow of customers never stopped, and each of them was a welcome addition. Occasionally, the line got two or three customers deep, but no one had to wait long for their drinks, and each one was more than a customer. The barista went out of his way to make sure each customer was treated more like a visitor to his home.
Gold Bar offers a large selection of beverages, as well as pastries, cakes and pie. They offer the best selection of chai teas that I’ve seen at any coffee shop, ranging from a classic spiced chai, to a green tea chai and even a chocolate chai. Of course, the most important thing for a coffee shop to get right, is the coffee. And get it right they did. Normally, I would try a cappuccino to determine the quality of a coffee shop, but a hot drink just wasn’t going to happen on a 110 degree day. Instead, I ordered a nonfat iced latte. This may not tell me how good the froth is, but it still tells me the standards used in preparing the drinks, and the quality of the coffee itself.
The espresso was roasted to exactly the right darkness. Some coffee shops claim that the “smokiness” of their espresso means that it’s a perfectly roasted bean. I tend to think that “smoky” can be translated “burnt”. The perfect espresso roast is brought right up to the point of becoming smoky, without crossing the line into actually tasting smoky. And that’s right where this espresso was at: dark and sultry, complex with a Brazil nut flavor, and hints of spice and buttery caramel.
Gold Bar is also very active. A quick visit to their website, and you will see that they know how to keep busy, and keep you entertained. They have regular activities, ranging from the classic live jazz music to game nights where they pull out a bunch of card and board games. On the game nights, you are even welcome to bring your own games to play and share. With everything this coffee shop does to make the experience enjoyable, it’s no small wonder why there was a constant flow of customers into the shop on a Wednesday afternoon. This is a place you just want to be.
Overall, I highly recommend Gold Bar. In a world overrun with chain coffee shops and small shops that don’t know how to make coffee, I am glad that the first shop I reviewed turned out to be a diamond in the rough. If you ever find yourself looking for coffee at McClintock and Southern in Tempe, AZ, pass by the Starbucks on the corner, and head to Gold Bar at the back of the parking lot.