Stepping in the door, away from a windy day on First Avenue, two things immediately strike me about Fonté Cafe and Wine Bar. The first is a sign reading, "Please Seat Yourself." The second is the suitability of every previous Fonté reviewer's favorite word, "swanky." Which makes the meaning of the sign unclear: either it means, "Make yourself at home!" or "Look, we simply haven't the time." It could easily mean either. I linger at the door and look around uncertainly.
Fonté Cafe is not what you'd expect. Its reputation as an upscale neighbor of the Four Seasons Hotel has been extolled extensively (and repeatedly), as has its reputation as a coffee bar, a wine bar, and the home of Seattle's first Beer Giraffe. But it is not any one of these things that makes up Fonté's atmosphere. Rather, it is all of them in combination. And some of them, frankly, are not things one expects to find in comfy coexistence.To my right, there are two empty couches and a coffee table, as well as several bar-height tables occupied by parties of one+laptop. To my left, an empty room with more tables. The ceiling has been lowered by addition of wood paneling, and the rooms are divided by heavy, faux-iron barriers reminiscent of trellises. Wine bottles are displayed along one wall, the scent of bread hangs heavily in the air, and the wait-staff is bustling back and forth between patrons and the bar. The whole atmosphere, which bears the prominent title "Coffee" on the outside, has the earthy, visual association of a wine cellar inside, and the classy, olfactory effect of a European restaurant.
Directly ahead of me, I can see the shiny silver of a Mirage espresso machine. There is nobody on my side of it, and the two gentlemen on the other side of it are looking expectantly my direction, as if to see what I will do. One last weighing of the options, and I walk past the couches, between the trellises, and directly up to the bar...
Please note that I am still completely unsure of what the appropriate, sanctioned procedure for getting coffee at Fonté actually is. But if I didn't meet it, none of the staff ever let on. With a general attitude of, "You couldn't possibly be in the way," coupled impressively with, "You couldn't possibly ask too many questions," the barista served my coffee with friendly, but polished professionalism.
Fonté is set up with four grinders, offering two single origin espressos in addition to their signature espresso blend and decaf espresso. On the recommendation of the barista, who (purposely, I think) failed to warn me what I was in for, I opted for a shot of the SOE Brazil. Shock ensued. I'm accustomed to relatively mellow South American coffees. Here, white pepper, grapefruit, and a lightly caramelized raw sugar complemented a stunning, auburn espresso. Possibly one of the most exciting coffees I have experienced to date, and certainly one of the spiciest, the surprise of it rendered the caffeine almost unnecessary! On the negative side, the color of the espresso is made possible in part by an excessive frothiness, which separates the crema from the rest of the shot in a way that means experiencing them almost completely separately, and I wonder if it might be beneficial to a melding of flavors if the textures could meld more as well. On the positive side, you absolutely cannot be bored with it. I hear often from non-espresso-drinkers that all espresso tastes the same. I feel like this one might be a good place to start noticing a few differences.
Eventually drifting to one of the couches, I settled in to make use of the WiFi and observe the goings on. Someone brought me water and checked to see if I needed anything else. The patron across from me ordered what looked and smelled like a fabulous penne dish. Following the Brazilian coffee, my Americano (made with Fonté's regular blend) seemed flat and dull, but I could hardly blame it. Most things would, after that.
Or so I thought. But then I looked up to see one of the staff members wrestling a non-customer to the floor. That was not dull. I hadn't even noticed the man come in, and by the time I caught on to anything happening at all, he was being collected while in the process of what appeared to be an attempted scaling of a counter. Both the offending party and the enforcing staff member seemed tenably indignant over the exchange, the latter insisting that the former leave the premises immediately, and he in turn holding forth about how it just wasn't conscionable under any circumstances to jump a guy from behind.
Whether or not this sort of thing is a regular occurrence at Fonté, I can't say. But I suppose that when you take up space and bridge the gap between The Four Seasons and The Lusty Lady (even though it is no longer there), this is what happens. Swanky as your establishment may or may not be, it is still on First Ave, and people might occasionally try to climb on your counters. All things considered (the espresso and the scuffle together), it really was a most unusually exciting morning in the world of coffee blogging.
If you're in need of a little excitement in your day, stop by Fonté Coffee at 1321 First Avenue, and try the SOE: Brazil. I can't promise any dramatic events, but I can promise an exhilarating shot of coffee.