Best Coffeehouse

If the coffeehouses of the 1990s are a throwback to the Cheers era, Chocolate Moose is a perfect example. It's a place where, if not everybody knows your name, at least owner John Helverson makes a point of it. "That's Joe," he says, pointing to a white-haired man in his fifties. "He's having some personal problems and comes here every night. It's his home away from home." The customers are an eclectic group ranging from teenagers to seniors. On a recent Thursday night, the place was packed for open-mic night (there's also singles' night, psychic night, and gothic night). Two dozen or so people sat at tables, at what passes for a "bar," and on recliners, listening to a young blond woman in jeans serve up a decent guitar-backed rendition of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer song, of all things. In the back of the room, a tattooed twentysomething couple sitting on brushed velvet couches played a lively game of chess. A bookcase offers such diverse fare as The Guinness Book of Records, Favorite Houseplants, and Smart Women, Foolish Choices. The owner samples hundreds of coffee beans before choosing his faves, and one of his proud inventions is the White Cow, a blend of espresso, white chocolate, and vanilla. There are also a few wine choices for those who prefer a stronger form of liquid relaxation, and the décor is warm and inviting, with a roaring fake fireplace, heart-shape candles, and miniature stuffed moose scattered throughout. But as on Cheers, the friendship and good-natured ribbing are what bring people back.

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