For remote workers even before the pandemic, merging “home” and “work” into the same physical space was deeply appealing (who doesn’t want to take Zoom calls in pajama pants?) and also challenging. It’s a common struggle to separate who you are at home and who you are at work — filing TPS reports and mediating dramas between coworkers requires different skills from heading up your recreational softball league or reacting to Bluey episodes with your toddlers. And that’s why people are, now more than ever, seeking out “third places” as a way to bring some balance.
In Austin, all-day cafes are a growing phenomenon. Part coffee shop, part bar, beer garden, community hub, restaurant, these establishments are attempting to be everything, everywhere at once, and giving people spaces to snap out of work ruts or home-related stresses. Established all-day cafes like Radio Coffee & Beer and Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden have become such major parts of Austin life that they’ve been able to expand to second locations within the last year, and Cosmic even acquired a lease for an upcoming third in far South Austin. These multipurpose venues are essential to our culture as a city because they function as ideal third places.
But what exactly is a third place? According to sociologist Ray Oldenburg in the early 1990s, third places are public neutral grounds where people can gather and connect. These venues should be relaxed, low-pressure (in terms of vibes and finances; you should be able to spend time without spending a lot of money), and structured in a way that makes conversations easier for groups. At the same time, solo visitors should also feel welcome hanging out there for some time. It’s not an office nor a home, but it can be a setting for activities like finishing a presentation on a laptop or pushing the kids on a swing set. Third places don’t need to follow a specific set of rules; they just need to be available, accessible, comfortable, and separate from the pressures of the home (full of potential chores and errands) or the workplace.
Austin’s all-day cafes take the idea of the third place and manifest it in a form that’s as functional as it is enjoyable. There are large indoor and outdoor areas, plenty of electrical outlets, free Wi-Fi, a menu loaded with coffee, tea, juices, and — in most cases — some alcoholic options, either food from its own kitchen or a selection of trucks, event programming that appeals to a broad range of people, and a vibe that feels like a departure from the home-and-work norm.
A “good escape” is exactly how Paul Oveisi describes his sustainable cafes and bars Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden and Cosmic Saltillo. The two locations, with richly planted gardens, scenic water features, and abundant seating, giving locals the chance to refuel, relax, and reconnect with friends. “Our purpose is to create an oasis from the day-to-day,” he says. “A space where our guests can relax and be enriched by meaningful connections, natural environments, and genuinely warm hospitality.”
Many owners of Austin all-day cafes agree that their communities are the primary sources of inspiration and that a successful third place must appeal to its neighbors first and foremost. Trey Hudson, a co-owner of Radio Coffee & Beer and the new Radio/East, describes the spots as “community gathering spaces.” During an interview at the Menchaca location, no fewer than three separate people stopped by the table to warmly greet Hudson and co-owner Jack Wilson. They both recognized these regulars, knew where they lived, and what usually brought them to Radio. Radio doesn’t settle for just physically existing in South Austin; its team puts in the work to relate to its surroundings by forging personal relationships with local residents, listening to guests and adapting to suit their needs, emphasizing accessibility and availability, and bringing visitors the positive and welcoming energy that they need.
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails and Hold Out Brewing customers see the popular coffee shop, restaurant, bar, and brewery mini-campus in West Austin as a cornerstone of the community. “We have some regulars who use the space as a quiet workplace and others who have developed friendships with our team and other customers,” says Mark Stowe, the director of operations and partner. “We have couples who met at our property and come back to take engagement or baby photos.” He also shares that the restaurant’s lost-and-found section has a “steady stream” of kid toys, dog bowls, jackets, and books.
Some of Austin’s all-day cafes opened in areas where there were relatively few third-place options already. By providing that type of retreat for residents and visitors, these places have forged deeper connections with locals while showing how new venues can add to their neighborhoods without overshadowing the existing culture, while “paving the way” for other businesses to flourish nearby. That’s how Rachael Garbowski, owner of Ani’s Day & Night, sees it. “Staff that had come from working in more typical high-volume bars were shocked at how nice our neighbors were,” she says. [Ed. note: Ani’s has since temporarily closed as of late December 2023.]
Ever since it first opened in 2021, this Montopolis bar, food truck hub, and unofficial clubhouse for local artists of all stripes — thanks to its creative energy and focus on hosting exhibits and concerts that feature artists from the neighborhood — has prioritized its community and sought to become a welcoming haven rather than an out-of-place novelty. As a new business in a neighborhood full of many long-time residents, the team sought to build relationships with them. “We knocked on doors and provided free coffee coupons to as many houses as we could within a one-mile radius of us,” she says. These one-on-one introductions paid off: “We were welcomed with open arms. [Our neighbors] bring us food. They keep an eye out for the place. We know their drink orders and their dogs’ names.”
According to Thomas Gohring, owner of Kick Butt Coffee, his long-standing cafe was an early presence in the now-thriving hospitality scene of Brentwood. Today, it serves as a live music venue, comedy club, and remote workspace. The unpretentious vibes and versatile space make it a prime location for people to build friend groups and lasting relationships with employees and patrons. Gohring recounts how a regular customer who used the coffee shop as his study headquarters for law school and the bar exam, referred a person for the barista team who is still working there, and even found love at Kick Butt. “He asked out the lady who used to work next door here, and they got married last year,” he says.
For an all-day cafe to truly work as a third place, it also needs to be available for everyone. Radio Coffee & Beer embraces that with particular dedication by making the deliberate choice to let people linger without having to constantly buy something. “That’s something that I really loved about ‘old’ coffee shop culture,” says Wilson. “You could buy one cup of drip coffee and hang out all day.” The coffee shop’s one acre of space on Menchaca Road and two acres in Montopolis means that there’s plentiful seating available at all times. Ordering from the counter and food trucks also makes it easier for guests to hang out for long periods without feeling as self-conscious as they might at a table-service place where holding a table without spending money could affect a server’s tips.
While Radio hosts regular events like concerts and is a popular location for parties and gatherings, daily customers can still visit regardless of the day’s scheduled activity. “Our regulars make [Radio] part of their routine every day,” says Hudson. To preserve this casual, come-as-you-are availability, Radio doesn’t allow for full buyouts for private parties or ticketed events, though occasionally an area may be cordoned off for wristband-only entry. The team still makes sure that patrons who aren’t attending an event are “able to come in and enjoy the space” anyway. “That’s the joy of our space, and we’re not going to take that away for any amount of money,” he says.
For McKinney’s Meanwhile Brewing, a sprawling space naturally gives way to communal energy even while guests are hosting individual gatherings. In addition to a celebrated coffee program, the venue hosts food trucks like the award-winning Distant Relatives, Pueblo Viejo, and Side Eye Pie, and outfitted its massive property with a stage, a playground, and even a soccer field. “Our space is inclusive and customizable,” says Adrienne Rivers, the event manager. Its nearly four acres of land allow larger groups to grab first-come-first-serve seating, and if they’d rather not compete for tables and chairs, there’s the private event space.
Because all-day cafes are meant to be used… all day, these inherent aspects must be available for that full length of time. But turning a daytime cafe into an evening destination requires a mixture of organic shifts and deliberate choices on the venue’s part. It’s been a challenge for Radio that they’ve struggled with from the beginning. “How do we make it feel like a welcoming, bright, clean coffee shop in the morning and then a rowdy bar at night?” asks Wilson. To that effect, Radio implements atmospheric concert-style lighting at night to correspond with the live music.
Other all-day cafes take different approaches. At Cosmic, Oveisi says that the vibes differ from the day and night thanks to the actual sun, the menu, the music, and, similarly to Radio, its lighting. But above all else, he credits the difference to the “changing guest energy” through the hours. He explains that daytime-only regulars often find themselves surprised by the nightlife-ish atmosphere in the evenings, and then that night-only guests see a big difference between their cocktails-and-dancing spirit and the mellow coffee-and-tacos-and-beer sun-up scene. “There are very few places that have a garden/natural vibe that [still] resonates into the night,” he says.
When Radio Coffee & Beer first opened in 2014, the evening services were quite different. Hudson says that they didn’t start serving cocktails until a couple of years after it opened. But it turns out their regulars wanted spirits, so the team added drinks beyond beer. Due to the success of Radio Coffee & Beer’s cocktails, Radio/East began its life primarily as a bar.
Radio’s shift into cocktail service serves as a prime example of how all-day cafes adapt and evolve to suit their guests’ needs and how that evolution helps them maintain their third-place status in their communities. Radio originally cut off public Wi-Fi at 5 p.m. because, as Hudson says, they “wanted to have a really hard cue that ‘you’re not supposed to be working here now.’” But because people liked to go there for an evening workspace, they loosened and eventually removed that restriction based on feedback.
Sure, there are all-day cafes all over the world, but many “don’t operate [for the most part] with the breadth that is popularly accepted in Austin,” as co-owner of Progress Coffee in Cherrywood and Buda Scott Withers writes over email. These local third places reflect the city’s needs by meeting customers exactly where they are.
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