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photo:Chris Shields

Getting Comfortable
By John Brodeur

Hanging out with friends, catching up on schoolwork, easing into a first date, showing off at Scrabble—just another day in the life of Muddy Cup Coffee House

‘I’ve seen all good people,” says a 20-something server whose name may or may not be Doug, inadvertently quoting prog-rock band Yes. “We get a lot of first dates, and a lot of professors. They’ll come in here before their classes and work out their day plans.”

It’s true—spend some early daylight hours at Muddy Cup Coffee House (it opens at 7 AM), and you’ll see a stream of academic types filter in and out. Some rush to beat the uptown traffic; others linger at tables, thumbing through datebooks or squinting to make out the text on their Palm Pilots.

Since opening here in fall 2005 (there are also stores in Hudson and Staten Island), Muddy Cup Coffee House has been fostering a sense of community in this primarily student-occupied neighborhood. (The College of Saint Rose is just on the other side of Main Avenue). The location obviously doesn’t hurt—Muddy Cup occupies the combined former sites of Jeff’s Pizza and Altar Records, and is technically part of the Madison Theater. But Muddy Cup employees seem certain the coffeehouse would thrive with or without the benefit of the multiplex next door.

“I see 40 to 80 regulars in here on a daily basis,” says Doug, who himself was a regular customer before taking a job here. “It’s picking up.” He gestures to a group of five college-aged girls seated around a small coffee table. Two of them chat about a recent exam, while the other three seem unaware of the world around them as they flip through various printed media and sip away at their oversized mugs.

Oversized paintings with simple color schemes and obvious geometric patterns hang on the 25-foot crimson walls. In the front corner, facing out of the large storefront window, a young girl plugging away at her iBook blushes as her cellphone bleats out a popular tune—Kelly Clarkson or Gwen Stefani, perhaps? She apologizes to a group sitting nearby; they react as if they hadn’t even noticed the brief digital racket.

In the evening, after the sunlight has evaporated from the sky, the room takes on a less bustling, but no-less-inviting tone.

Serenely tucked away in the café’s small upstairs nook, away from the rest of the business, two young men are seated kitty-corner on benches that line the walls, beneath a green-paper lantern. They’re enveloped in conversation, acting as if they’re the only two people on Earth. As a few strains of “Wild Horses” sneak up from the stereo speakers 15 feet below, it almost seems romantic, although that may not even be why they’re here this evening.

“It’s quiet up here,” one of them remarks. “It’s not even this quiet in my apartment. It’s nice to have a place where you don’t have to talk over a lot of noise.”

A young brunette gleefully multitasks along, cellphone to her ear and Microsoft Word open on her laptop computer. Next to her, on one of several green couches, a couple enthusiastically chat each other up, body language suggesting that their evening may not be over yet, despite the late hour.

At a long, wooden table near the service counter—“it looks like it could have been used for the Last Supper,” jokes one patron—a scruffy blond kid in an Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt spreads out what looks to be calculus homework. He rifles through the textbook pages, and lets out a small sigh.

Joann, a nervous-looking nursing student, here to study up for what she fears will be a difficult week, pulls aside the earpiece of her iPod. “It kind of reminds me of this place in Madison,” she says. “They had a Scrabble league there, too.”

Sure enough, each Monday, Muddy Cup hosts a Scrabble league. “We get some librarians in here that clear their rack every time, seven-letter word after seven-letter word,” laughs Doug, incredulously. Children’s toys and other board games are seen scattered about, suggesting a fair amount of family traffic, and the café’s variety of vintage-looking furniture also welcomes regular meetings of a several area social groups, including AlbanyBloggers.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, the doors stay open until 2 AM—“sometimes the regulars keep us here even later,” says Doug—but the nightlife isn’t likely to include live music anytime soon.

“People like the fact that they can come here and enjoy themselves peacefully, get some work done, and hang out with friends,” says Joann. She turns her eyes downward and continues reading.

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