The wafts of patchouli incense and bluesy acoustic guitar beats emerge from Underground Coffeehaus. Over the years, the joint has attracted Fort Lauderdale's tattooed and skinny-jean crowd with coffee concoctions topped with whip cream and sprinkles, and over 40 flavors of tatter tots.
Putting a pale cyan streak of hair behind her ear, owner Aileen Liptak smirks at her boyfriend, co-owner Brett Combs. He smiles back, twirling his handlebar mustache.
"He's a boy who likes to drink coffee, and I'm a girl who likes to make it," Liptak says holding eye contact with her beau.
Liptak began brewing coffee 13 years ago as a barista at Barnes and Noble. She would later work at Archives Book Café, which is where she met Combs who was a regular and fan of her caffeinated creations. In time, Liptak would eventually purchase the shop, and rename it Undergrounds Coffeehaus after the previous owner put it up for sale.
"We're supposed to be quirky," Liptak chimes. "It's a coffee shop, but I'll tell you it's [spelled] 'haus' because I'm German."
Nestled above a dry cleaners in an unassuming shopping center on Federal Highway, the joint opened in their new clandestine location almost two years ago. Liptak and Combs moved from the original outpost in Gateway Plaza for more space after drawing in a loyal cult of hippies, artistic types, and geeks. Everyone followed.
Atop the floral-carpetted stairs to the unmarked door, the shop serves whimsical coffee, so sweet it doubles as dessert. They also dish up more typical lattes, cappuccinos, and tea, but the sprinkles and whip cream of their signature drinks are customer favorites.
The Peanut Butter Cup is prepared with melted peanut butter, chocolate syrup, espresso, and steamed milk. The drink is so thick, it's served with a spoon. The Banana Split Sundae is a mixture of chocolate and strawberry syrup with espresso. For those in need of a jolt of caffeine, the Stern is made with espresso, Coca Cola, a dash of cream, and Nescafe on top. With an uncanny ability to recommend the perfect cup of joe, the eponymous Aileen Special is a recommendation made by Liptak or the trained staff after a personality quiz of likes and dislikes.
In addition to coffee, the shop also serves Hot Pockets, biscotti, popcorn, cereal, and anything that can be whipped up with just a microwave. A popular must-have has been the tatter tots. From celery salt to jerk chicken or curry, there are over 40 flavors to chose from.
Other than the kitschy paintings and random knick nacks, hundreds of books line the blood red walls. Organized by category, the literature is available for sale or in-house reading. Board games like monopoly and connect four can be taken to the homey red couches. A guitar is left out for anyone to strum out on the balcony.
"It's a great place for a blind date," Liptak touts. "There's a lot of action and something is always going on. We've seen couples date here and eventually get married and have children."
From hosting weekly creative writing groups to art events in the venue room every month, Liptak is accurate: There is always something going on. The annual prom each May and their lively Halloween parties are some of the most popular events. From 16 to 60, Liptak and Combs open their doors to everyone.
"It's a universal hole of relaxation and comfort," Liptak explains. "This is your living room away from home and we become whatever you need it to be. We offer so much more than coffee."
Undergrounds Coffeehaus is located at 3020 Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. They are open from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-630-1900 or visit ungeroundscoffeehaus.com.
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