If this isn’t the best coffeehouse in the city, as defined by the classic third-place mix of work and social gathering place, it’s definitely the most European. And I should add, it’s European-ish without any obvious effort to be so. First off, it’s a coffeehouse in all those ways you want – good coffee, counter service and laptop friendly. But it’s also a café, with a full bar and full kitchen offering decent breakfast and lunch type fare, but without it being about ‘Our Food’ or anything else in particular. It also has sunlight galore, with a glassed-in interior and ample patio and sidewalk table space. You can work freely without pressure, and the setting is great for a casual meetup with friends. Though if you need heavy work concentration, the scene here veers more to the social. There’s also a row of chairs facing the street for the sole purpose of people watching, just like those cafes in Paris. There’s nothing shiny or hip about Café Flore – it’s been around forever (1973) – but it hits all those coffeehouse café notes pitch perfectly. Bonus points for being a neighborhood and SF institution.
Jumpin’ Java Coffee House
The coffeehouse that Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) was purported to frequent, is one of only a couple options in this small, mostly residential neighborhood. But it’s a good one for working, basically a big comfy room of wood-floors and benches where everyone else is also working. It’s sometimes crowded and hard to find a seat, or plug, but otherwise is perfect for setting up office and getting lots work done. It’s also a nice setting on a tree-lined residential street, with a small seating area out front. The other best option in the neighborhood is Duboce Park Café, which is better for socializing, across from the park and with tables outside under several large trees.
Despite the classic play-on-words name, this is my go-to place for the lower Haight. It’s off the main street so a bit quieter, and it’s corner location and wall of large windows lets in lots of light. The residential setting is pleasant, with some seats on the sidewalk under large trees. People come to mostly work, or work together, with socializers gravitating to the outdoor tables. Though the food and drink is mostly standard, it seems to be a notch above the average. My second vote goes to Café International, an old-school coffeehouse you could imagine fitting well in Berkeley. It’s a big open room with threadbare chairs and couches, and likes to wear its ‘international’ on its sleeve; the café where you’re mostly to hear ‘70s era Highlife or Ethiopian jazz.
Cole Valley Café
When I lived in the neighborhood and had work to get done, I’d usually head here. On the corner of Waller and Cole, it’s away from the craziness of Haight; a pleasant residential spot with big trees outside. There’s also lots of windows and workability, though the hard benches make for a sore butt after a few hours. Another option is Coffee To The People on Masonic, a somewhat ironic name since the owners seem to be dedicated capitalists without much patience for the neighborhood riffraff. But the room is sectioned off in alcoves with comfortable couches, and attractive old skylights overhead. If they extended the hours, I’d come here more.