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Best Coffeehouse: Beehive

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Kumar Ramanathan, 29, of the North Hills, a.k.a. "Chocolate Love," and "the-coffee-guy-with-the-big-purple-hat" -- he and I are in the green room, the quiet room. The carefully etched graffiti on the bench beneath me patiently demands, "Where were you when I was coming down?" Music loiters in the door to the next room over. It might be Tom Waits, but I can't be sure. A siren blares by on Carson Street outside. We're drinking coffee while Ramanathan tries to wake up from a long shift.

"Where'd you put out your cigarette?" I ask him.

"Oh, I put it out on the bottom of my shoe. ... Wait ... I'll get you an ashtray."A student with papers splayed out in front of her looks up from her window-seat cubby as the sirens fade.

Ramanathan gives me a tired smile as he comes back with a canary yellow ashtray. "So, yeah," he continues, "Steve [Zumoff] and Scott [Kramer], they've got a lot of plans. We do [art] openings, we want to get bands and have readings, but they don't want to lose their vision of this place as a coffee shop. It's really about the atmosphere." Ramanathan begins to trail off, but then interrupts himself: "Jeff! Jeff, come over here. Why did you start coming here?"

Short hair, clean-shaven, very friendly and working at one of the new-looking computers lined up along the wall, Jeff Murray, 27, of Mount Washington, gets up from his computer and comes over at Chocolate Love's request. He's a Beehive employee, too.

"I guess because I got addicted to coffee when I was an Oakland Beehiver skipping class my senior year in high school," he responds. It comes out in subsequent conversation Jeff's a newly barred attorney and a writer. Later, it comes out that Chocolate Love holds a master's degree in rhetoric. In a little while, Gary Musisko, 26, formerly of the South Side but now of Regent Square, sits down to join us. He bartends at the Tiki Lounge, another of Scott and Steve's projects. He's a singer and songwriter.

And really, this is the thing about the Beehive. The food is tasty and the pinball is always fun. The rotating art that lines the walls of each of the three long rooms of the newly renovated coffee house is nice, too ... as are the vibrating massage table, the grotto in the patio out back, the non-smoking room and the cigarette machine there that sells everything.

All of that is terrific, but when you look outside their front window at the seamless face of the Starbucks across the street an ugly reality hits: In a world of emulation and proliferation, all of this is replicable. Well, almost all of it.

"The group of regulars here are here every day," Ramanathan explains as he starts to wake up from his day. "I love Starbucks as a company -- they're a great company -- they treat their workers well, but I'm not going into their [coffee shop]."

"I feel very similar," Murray responds. "They're a great company, but I'm a smoker, number one. I'm not going into a coffee shop and getting coffee and talking without smoking. And second, generally, I like to be with artists, lots of intellectuals and have great discussions every day." He's beginning to pick up some momentum now.

"I like to be around those types of people," he continues. "People at Starbucks don't know each other. You see people studying there, and you see people studying here, but people are a part of a community here. Here, it's almost expected that you're part of ..." He reaches for the right word -- but ends up with "the movement."

A short silence, then laughter ensues.

So this might not be the revolution just yet. But when the revolution does come, although it won't be televised, it will almost definitely be caffeinated, and, personally, I can think of no place better than the Beehive to get a head start on my buzz.

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