14 Apr Home Away From Home: 6 of Phoenix’s Best Third Places
My introduction to the real Phoenix came at the hands of a coffee shop. It was a month or two into the school year, and I went with some of my friends to First Friday. Afterward, we stopped at Jobot for iced toddies. I’d never been in a local coffee shop before — raised in the suburbs, I was much more familiar with Starbucks — and I was fascinated by how many people were hanging out in those three small rooms talking and laughing and making friends. It’s not something you see in a Starbucks, where if someone is at one of three tiny tables, they’re in a suit, on a laptop, and don’t want to be bothered.
In the years since, I’ve grown to appreciate the value of third places — those crucial spots that facilitate socialization and interaction outside of home or work. Ray Oldenburg outlines just why third places are important in his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. They offer an “escape or time-out from life’s duties and drudgeries.” They serve as a pick-me-up, and create new sets of acquaintances.
According to Oldenburg, third places share eight common characteristics:
- They provide a neutral ground for people to come and go as they please
- They are levelers that unify individuals regardless of social class or status
- They pave the way for conversation as the main activity
- They are accessible and accommodating, in both hours and location
- They draw a base of regulars that sets the tone of the place
- They are largely understated, plain and modest
- They keep a playful mood
- They are warm and inviting — they are, as Oldenburg puts it, “a home away from home.”
As a student at ASU and an intern who frequently works remotely, third places have been the key to some of my more successful work sessions. The chance for interaction they provide is more appealing than the thought of sitting home at a desk with no one to talk to. And the comfortable environment without the responsibilities of dishes and laundry at home allows greater focus and productivity. As Oldenburg writes, “Though a radically different kind of setting from the home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends.”
Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite homes away from home.
Lola Coffee Bar
I’m at Lola for a meeting at least once a week and often find myself stopping in to grab a coffee on the way home from the light rail. What’s particularly striking about Lola is that there’s always someone I know there, whether it’s co-founders Ryan or Quinn, who are almost daily customers, or a city official who I needed to email anyway, or that girl I used to live above in the dorm. Oldenburg echoes this thought, “Those who regularly visit third places expect to see familiar faces.”
For a while, my boyfriend and I were regulars at The Turf (recently renamed Public House). Some weeks we would be there as many as four times to grab a drink or a bite to eat and to say hi and hang out with the group of friends who were always there on Saturday nights. We still visit Turf from time to time, but when we go, I’m always more excited to see the people than to eat the fried pickles. I don’t think I’m alone, either; according to Oldenburg, “what attracts the regular visitor to a third place is supplied not by management but by the fellow customers.”
I used to frequent Songbird Coffee and Tea House when they were still in the bottom of MonOrchid. I usually don’t think to stop in and see a gallery unless it’s First or Third Friday, but the coffee shop there in the entry was a good reminder to wander over and see the art while I waited for a latte. And last month it provided a neutral ground by hosting the monthly Radiate PHX, a networking event designed to link business and community leaders. Oldenburg writes that “many, perhaps most, neighbors will never meet…for there is no place for them to do so.” Thankfully that’s not the case at MonOrchid.
Lawn Gnome Publishing
Lawn Gnome is the sort of place you find yourself compulsively stopping into every time you walk down Fifth Street. It’s Downtown’s only used book store and host to several different weekly performances. It’s a mirthful atmosphere — gnome statuettes and cartoons are hidden in nooks all over the converted house, and trinkets like an old typewriter and Lego earrings top the bookcases. Oldenburg stipulates that at third places, “joy and acceptance reign over anxiety and alienation.” This is certainly true of Lawn Gnome.
One cannot help but feel at home in Lux Central. Maybe it’s the soft lighting, or the communal dining table, or the great, arcing yellow sofa straight out of a mid-century living room that makes it seem so inviting. The heavenly smells emanating from the open kitchen certainly don’t detract from that warmth. Lux is, as Oldenburg writes, “often more homelike than home.” It also fits the low profile requirement — its cinder-block facade and small lettering are easy to miss from the street.
Changing Hands Bookstore
The beauty of Changing Hands Phoenix is that it combines so many atmospheres into one building. It is primarily a bookstore, but is also a coffee shop, a bar, and a performance venue. It’s a unique sort of leveler that brings together people of vastly different interests under one roof and somehow there, everyone belongs. It is, “by its nature, an inclusive place,” as Oldenburg writes.
These are the third places I frequent the most, but there are certainly others I’d like to try — like Third Space over on Grand Avenue, or The Velo on Garfield Street, or DeSoto Central Market, now that it’s finally open. I’m always on the lookout for another hangout. Where is your favorite home away from home? Tell us about it in the comments below.