OK, so the consensus on the new Highland Park Starbucks is pretty clear: It’s one fugly Starbucks. But is it really the “most depressing Starbucks in America”?
That phrase, which originated with a single tweet by journalist Todd Johnson, has exploded across local and national media over the past week, making the humble concrete hut at 6240 York Blvd. the coffee giant’s biggest PR disaster since they got caught using bugs as food coloring.
KTLA and ABC7 both ran with the “most depressing Starbucks in America” catchphrase, as did Curbed, LAist (which Photoshopped a Sad Keanu into the location’s spartan seating area — well played, LAist!), Grub Street, Business Insider, and Bustle, which upped the ante and declared it to be the most depressing Starbucks in THE WORLD.
But it’s still a Starbucks, so how bad can it be, really? As a proud Highland Park resident, I decided to investigate for myself.
From the outside, the Highland Park Starbucks (officially, the neighborhood’s first — although another ‘Bucks has stood for years at the other end of York Blvd., in what is technically Eagle Rock) does look pretty unimpressive. Its exterior is beige concrete, with a brown shingled roof and narrow windows. There are only four parking spaces — including one handicapped spot that is, inexplicably, the furthest from the walk-up window — so the emphasis is clearly on the drive-thru lane, which takes a long meander through the back of the parking lot to accommodate lots of traffic.
The front of the building is dominated by a semi-enclosed patio area, with oddly mismatched, white-paned windows facing the street. From the outside, the windows are a nice touch, but once inside the patio, they make the space feel dark and a bit claustrophobic, especially since all the other surfaces, including the one, narrow seating area, offer up more concrete.
Contrary to the angry Yelp reviews, the walk-up window does have a display menu of sandwiches, drinks and pastries, which I guess was added sometime in the last week. You place and pick up your order at the same window, which must be awkward when there’s a line. But when I went, at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday, there were only a handful of other walk-up customers, so I got my grande Mocha Frappuccino with a minimum of fuss.
There’s an additional outdoor patio with more seating, overlooking the parking lot for the senior citizen center next door. The round tables and benches in this area are that khaki-colored plastic that’s made to look like concrete — the outdoor fast-food seating inverse of those Jeff Koons balloon animal sculptures.
So overall, yes, the feeling at this Starbucks is pretty grim and uninviting. But is it the “prison-like” (as several Yelpers called it) chamber of depression everyone’s making it out to be? Not really. It’s just a drive-thru Starbucks with a walk-up window and some outdoor seating tacked on as afterthought — an exceptionally ugly, poorly executed drive-thru Starbucks, sure, but not inconsistent with similar drive-thru locations they’ve opened in Tarzana, Riverside and dozens of other locations across the country, all with no great community outcry.
So why all the outrage over this particular Starbucks? Could it be that, after years of everyone (including me) telling them that they live in L.A.’s coolest neighborhood, Highland Parkers have developed a bit of a superiority complex? That they now, even when it comes to fast-food chains (and let’s face it, folks, Starbucks is a fast-food chain — especially since they’ve declared that over half their new stores will feature drive-thru windows), have unreasonably high expectations for how cool or stylish any new business in their community must be?
Don't get me wrong: I appreciate that I live in a neighborhood bursting with civic pride. But treating this Starbucks like some kind of corporate diss of Highland Park ("They would never dare open a building like this in South Pasadena," one angry resident told KTLA) is reading way too much into it. They just repurposed an already-ugly building and failed to de-uglify it.
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Besides, HLP, if you really want to order your latte with a side of civic pride, there are plenty of non-depressing, locally owned businesses at which to do so: Café de Leche, the Highland Café, Antigua Bread, Amara Kitchen, to name a few.
Or, if you're like me and occasionally have an uncontrollable desire for a Mocha Frappuccino, there's always that Starbucks at the other end of York. They even have a drive-thru.