West Seattle's Bird on a Wire is the definitive neighborhood cafe. So much so that even as a determined North Seattleite, sitting by the shop for an hour has made me feel very West Seattle. The constant stream of foot and bike traffic, the uninterrupted flow of neighborhood news and chitchat running by, make even this lazy holiday weekend afternoon seem busy. The kids working behind the counter have fabulous smiles, easy natures, and quick, witty comebacks for every customer who walks in the door. It's all lighthearted laughter bubbling out the door to the sidewalk seating, and it's making the sidewalk quite enjoyable.
It seems counterintuitive, in a way, that such a chipper place would carry a title from Leonard Cohen's pensive poetry . . . or the vaguely macabre humor of its movie re-mastering in 1990, when Hollywood hairstyles were still so freakishly fluffy. Bird on a Wire, in its caffeinated edition, is a pretty hip little place.
In keeping with its name, on the other hand, the coffee shop serves espresso from the bird-themed Raven's Brew Coffee. Raven's Brew (now roasted for the lower 48 in Tumwater, Wash.) originated in Alaska, and reading their own version of their company's beginnings, one might come to the conclusion that it was a coffee developed strictly to sound a battle cry against Alaska's midwinter darkness and depression. Which is sort of its flavor profile, it turns out . . . like all the fine finesse of warfare. As a coffee, it possesses a little strategy and a little subtle sophistication, but for the most part, relies on straightforward, abrasive flavor: lightly astringent, deeply dependent on bass notes in its flavor profile, roasty, with a "lingering" finish. And, as an espresso, it bears the unfortunate title of "Three Peckered Billy Goat" blend. So. There's that.
Someone recently accused me of being spoiled when it comes to coffee, and I'll own up to it. Unfortunately, the more coffee I drink, the more spoiled I seem to become. But I'll stand on this statement without apology: Three Peckered Billy Goat has a gimmicky name because it is not a great coffee. And I say this with full recognition that it is an intentionally darker coffee, roasted with the desire of achieving a particularly "strong" flavor for its stated target market. But, coffee can be roasted even more darkly with more class.
All this to say, while the coffee is marginal in quality, Bird on a Wire is actually a great little location. If you love your Alaskan coffee, you can check it out at 3509 SW Henderson Street, before 6 p.m. any day of the week.
Meanwhile, a Pixar short for your holiday! One which also happens to be titled, "Bird on a Wire."