Common Grounds a family owned and operated coffee company for 21 years has two different locations, one downtown Denver in LoDo (17th Wazee steps away from Union Station) and the other in Sunnyside (near the highlands 44th & Vallejo). I went to their newer location in Sunnyside. This past August they opened the Sunnyside location, whic was used as their original roasting house.
Flashback to 1992. The owners wanted to open up an alternative place to hang out other than the local Denver bars. They took a chance and opened it up in the up and coming neighborhood which is now the highlands. They were one of the first places in the highlands that were a part of the turnaround of the town. They had live music and coffee for 75 cents. In 1999 they opened their LoDo location. 2007, booze was added to the menu.
The roaster you see smack dab in the middle of the cafe is used for roasting their coffee. It’s actually not as common as you would think to have the roaster right there in the shop itself. Places that I’ve seen have it out isn’t used in production. The Common Grounds philosophy is the only way to be sure of your product is to create it yourself. I love it! It is clear they take their coffee beans seriously here. There is an entire list of where they get their beans from with descriptions here, it is worth skimming through.
The Sunnyside neighborhood where the original roasting location sits has always been a part of the working class neighborhood. The town was built off of hard work and they wanted to make sure that came across with their coffee establishment. The roaster shop was locally known as “The Radiator Shop” because of its original manifestation. The Sunnyside Radiator Blend was created when the new location opened. It is a combination derived from an unusual process of roasting the beans from both Mexico and Sumatra simultaneously. This makes a sweet and deep flavor in one big melting toasty radiator pot. Genius.
The cafe itself is different from any other styles I’ve seen so far. The lights are boring. However, the insanely large room the cafe is in makes up for it. The standard industrial style ceilings have to be like, 20 feet tall. There Isn’t that wooden feel a lot of other cafes have. On nice days they open up their garage style doors leading out the patio area that looks really nice for a nice day, unlike this rainy Wednesday evening. Update: came back next morning on a nice day and the garage doors still are not open. However, since it is not in a crazy nice area, I don’t see myself dying to come back on a nice day for the outdoor sitting area. Update: was not dying to come back and did not sit outside. Inside though, the teal walls give the entire place their funky character. There are a lot of bright colors on the menus and incorporated throughout the cafe. There are books all over organized library style so you are immediately ready to bust out that laptop and get work done. *Work place friendly. I do have to say, I’m wildly impressed with their WiFi, it’s a lot quicker than most places. It is also clearly labeled by the register too.
I’m not sure if they keep this going but, there were flowers by the register that were adorable. I love this! They seemed just like someone picked it out from their back yard, stuck it in a vase and set it by the register. It looks great, I’m into it.
The people that were here, surprisingly somewhat hopin’, were all in their upper 20’s and early 30s. Most were getting work done or just chatting away on their coffee dates. Definitely attracts a good crowd. During the day it is definitely used as a work place for locals. The outdoor area had most of the social coffee goers. The music was not bad. I was into it. They played modest mouse, Lana del Ray some throw backs. Headphones may be needed through because it is quite noisy from the coffee and just the big room, sound doesn’t travel too well.
Pastries, not crazy about. I asked where they get them from too I can’t remember the name for the life of me (I’m pretty sure this same thing happened a few weeks ago) but I asked if they were a local Denver company and the barista believes so but “Isn’t completely sure”. Hmm. Hearing this, I was not impressed. I like to know ALL about it. Where it is, what the pastry shop is like, how fresh they are… etc. They had GF options but no vegan or local brand options. So, not impressed. There are plenty of food options that look great! The sandwiches and salads range from $5.75-$8.50. I could go for the Sun Dried Tomato Caprese sandwich or the humus plate next time! To top it off, they do serve local ice cream. I definitely like the sound of that.
The coffee, almond milk vanilla late and macadamia almond milk latte were BOMB! They do to charge you extra for almond milk or soy. EVEN BETTER! When I came back the next morning, they were actually roasting the coffee right there in the middle of the store. That was pretty neat to see even though I don’t understand what the heck was going on… but I appreciate it. The turquoise and lime green colors work for the space. Both times I came, my oversized mugs, that I’m in love with BTW, matched the walls and decor. I can’t get over this! I love when things match like that. It’s just thoughtful to have your mugs match your wall colors.
If you need to go to a coffee shop later in the evening to get things done, don’t come here. They close at 9 and I mean, they close at 9. At 9:00, they shut off the music and make their rounds clearing dishes and asking you if you want your coffee to go. Not that theres anything wrong with this, you close, people should get out. Nothing wrong with that. However, I was just rubbed the wrong way when I first came in. The baristas were arguing over something and neglected me at the counter for a couple of minutes too long. I honestly don’t care I was too busy staring aimlessly at the syrup options, anyways. It just didn’t make me LOVE the place. I love chatty baristas. The second experiences was much better. The staff seemed more professional and on the work grind content being there.
Common Grounds does serve both beer and wine. But I suppose if you want to really want to escape from the city and find a place to enjoy a glass of Pino Gris without even the slightest chance of running into someone you know, this is THE spot! They have a very extensive tea list as well, for you tea snobs. I’m not sure if the presentation is similar to Thump’s where you can just keep getting more hot water and refilling your tea fo free. Their syrup list is quite extensive as well. There are so many options that you can’t find just anywhere. Maybe next time I’ll try a macadamia white chocolate mint late? Probably not. Either way, they have syrup options for days.
Verdict: I would probably not come back to this location unless if I was REALLY looking for a place to escape to but to be honest, if I wanted to ‘escape’ for wine or coffee I probably would just go to Thump as usual. Although, I would be interested and not opposed to checking out the LoDo location. From the looks of the website, it seems as though they look similar but just the location is a little better for me in LoDo. I am happy that I was able to see the roaster in action and the spot where it all began 21 years ago. One thing that I love is the street sweeping sign at the register giving everyone a heads up that the street sweeping is coming up next week where their customers typically park. So considerate! The experience I had coming in later in the evening was pretty negative. Enough for me to not recommend this location especially if the Highlands Cork and Wine is not too far away from this spot.