The Lo-Hi neighborhood is an up-and-coming community on the north side of Denver, Colorado, and home to a rapidly changing landscape of new bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. There's a neighborhood like this in every city in America right now, it seems; the kind of area where being in business for a couple of years makes you an old-timer. Black Eye Coffee Shop, near the corner of 34th Ave. and Navajo Street, is exactly that sort of place.
Taking its name from the boxing history of the Latino-rich community in Lo-Hi, Black Eye greets its passersby and customers alike with a two-story tall mural of the iconic old-timey mustachioed boxer braced in fisticuffs with a kangaroo. With its garage doors open out to Navajo, the space itself feels fresh and inviting. When Black Eye was founded a bit over two years ago, the interior posed a formidable project for the ownership trio of Gregory Ferrari, Dustin Audet, and Ali Elman. Much of the furnishings and bar area were constructed by Mr. Audet and crew using found materials and reclaimed wood. Accents include a found and refurbished vintage neon sign sporting the words “COFFEE SHOP” encased in faded reclaimed wood, showcasing the space's focus on elegant simplicity.
The coffee service is classic, offering espresso drinks prepared using Anfim grinders and a 2-group Synesso espresso machine, and filter coffee either by Fetco batch brew or by-the-cup from Bee House ceramic drippers. Black Eye's coffee menu features Ceremony Coffee Roasters and Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters, in addition to their own in-house roasting, accomplished onsite using a 5-kilo Ambex. A sizable food menu rounds out the cafe service, including pastries and snacks at the counter and a set of more advanced dishes that change throughout the day. All food options are prepared on site.
Unique to Black Eye is their collaborative magazine shop, Walled In Magazines. Walled In is located at the back-end of Black Eye and consists of rare and extremely limited magazines from around the world, curated by Black Eye owner Gregory Ferrari. Ask about a given publication, and Ferrari will tell you its provenance, style, and why it's noteworthy. “I would say we have one of the best collections of independent magazines in the middle states,” he said later over email. Clearly this is not your typical airport Vogue & Vanity Fair display case.
Mr. Ferrari's the visionary here, and he previously operated a curated magazine subscription service that sourced and shipped magazines all over the world. The current list of titles at Walled In is impeccably chosen, featuring hard to find and revered international titles like Delayed Gratification, Oh Comely, Apartamento, Very Nearly Almost, Perdiz, Momma Tried, and many, many more. Never mind the fact that it's in Denver, or part of a cafe: Walled In is one of the best magazine shops in America, with titles beautifully presented in a vintage grocery store produce fridge, topped with a small forest of potted plants.
Titles like Kinfolk and The Wire are more familiar, but I found myself engrossed in the likes of Elephant and Eye, magazines detailing arts and culture, design and photography. Mr. Ferrari's goal in offering such a sensory-packed selection is to reintroduce community and conversation into the 2010's era coffee shop setting that so frequently falls to the ways of endless Facebook page refreshes. This proactive approach to inching away from a digital realm and back into that of conversation and the senses was thoroughly refreshing and further reflects the community-centric mindset I first encountered at the shop.
I think the greatest thing I'll take with me from my experience at Black Eye is that well-rounded proactive approach to transforming what the coffee shop can be moving forward. It's a shop that isn't afraid to carve out its own path, and on my future visits to the mile-high city, I'll definitely be stepping back into that ring. But when you combine the high level of coffee service with the truly impeccable, nationally noteworthy selection of magazines in the back of the shop, well, you start to get into the realm of much bigger claims. I don't want to call it a must-visit, or one of Denver's best, or number 17 on Sprudge.com's Top 25 Cafes To Visit Before You Croak or whatever–I just want to tell you that this place is special, and you should go there, and seriously with these magazines, it's really something else.
Charlie Burt is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Kansas City. Read more Charlie Burt on Sprudge.