No one is lacking for choice when it comes to great coffee in Boulder, but one indie spot stands out.
At just nine years old, The Laughing Goat on East Pearl Street is a nascent Boulder institution. Neighborhood coffeehouse by day, communal salon by night, the Goat collects devotees by the cup.
On Friday morning the place is awash in delightful inconsistencies: beautiful people, bohemians, Boulder’s trademark casual business types. They rush or saunter in for their morning joe and the steamer never ceases. It’s cool outside, the first fall-feeling morning, and the patio buzzes with patrons standing and sitting in animated conversation.
Every night the scene shifts. Wine and beer join the mix of liquid delights and a performance space emerges. Now it’s local and nationally touring musicians, poets and performers who generate the energy, sometimes big and other times imbuing the background.
“The talent finds us,” explains founder and co-owner John Jenkins. “We have a very well-established national reputation among touring acts looking for intimate, ‘listening room’ type venues. Our booking manager Dechen Hawk (also an incredible musician, songwriter and teacher), gets a steady stream of inquiries and then curates from that stream.”
Singles, dates, and groups make up the nightly audience, with students joining the fold. The Goat has managed to make serving beer and wine a casual construct, and under-21s are welcome. It’s a warm and cozy place where people gather but no one seems drunk.
Still, the perpetual buzz makes you wonder. True, the Goat serves up delicious coffee from Denver’s Kaladi Brothers roasters. Baristas are swift, smooth and nice. The daily 4 – 8 p.m. happy hour includes a great selection of beer and wine. And the practically free nightly entertainment ($5 suggested cover) is good; brimming in talent and even moments of brilliance.
But these things only partly explain the Goat’s old-home draw. This place has somehow tapped magic.
Its inspiration is certainly in the right place. Co-owner Daryl Smith was moved to establish The Laughing Goat after his beloved Penny Lane coffee house closed its doors in 2005. That legendary East Pearl ghost was a mecca for Boulder freethinkers in the 80s, 90s and 00s. It offered a similar format of coffee and night time performances, with open mike nights that have taken on mythological status. (That famous pre-famous set by Nirvana in 1989 isn’t what most diehards remember best.)
Who knows, maybe it’s the space. The morning light is very good. Big glass doors open the long room to a glow. Its black and wheat colored walls are decked in curated art (currently an intriguing mix of canvases by Nicholas Motte); its pastry-stocked coffee bar anchors the airy cosmos. Whatever it is, the Goat has become a destination for patrons, musicians and artists who might feel just as at home in smokier, darker confines.
“I still believe that The Laughing Goat is somewhat of a well-kept secret,” Mr. Jenkins explains. “For a night time hangout, date spot or place to meet people, you can’t beat it. There’s always something interesting happening. It’s worth dropping by.”
As far as People Magazine online is concerned, the secret is out. The website included The Laughing Goat in a recent list of “24 Coffee Shops in America You Have to Visit.”
The Laughing Goat has three Boulder locations, but my favorite is the original in Boulder’s peculiar East Pearl district. I lived there in the 90s and knew it as a much grittier place. It’s still low key, still kind of gritty, but now a bit denser in shabby-chic hipster shops and lavish condos.
The Goat stands out. The place is gorgeously sleek with coffee served in a proper cup and saucer, but it somehow manages to be magnanimously warm and welcoming.
It’s unlikely that anybody is getting rich here. Providing resonant entertainment every night of the week is no easy enterprise, and sometimes two or even three acts will hit the stage. The people who own and operate The Laughing Goat have chosen to give a gift, one that Boulder has enthusiastically accepted.
Find something good here every night but don’t miss Von Disco (blending jazz, funk & hip-hop), performing Wednesday, October 21 and Wednesday, November 16th, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The Laughing Goat is at 1709 Pearl Street. For a cup further east, hit The Goat At The Garage on 2907 55th Street. On CU’s campus, find The Laughing Goat at Norlin Library, 1720 Pleasant Street.