The ideal playlist at any business should be both ambient and engaging. It should be inventive without being alienating. Recognizable without feeling manufactured. Cohesive but not monotonous. Too many rules? Maybe, but music can change the mood of a place.
I spend an egregious amount of time in coffee shops, and I'm always listening. Once, while I was on a date at a coffee shop, the barista lowered the lights and blasted D'Angelo in the middle of the date. It was a surprise and, frankly, hilarious.
I visited 15 coffee shops over the last three weeks, listening to whether each was bumping a quality playlist. If you care what hits your ears while you're working, drinking or socializing at a D-FW coffee shop, pick one of these five spots spinning great tunes.
Avoca Coffee, Fort Worth
When I stepped into Avoca for the first time, I was met with industry standards like Tame Impala (circa Innerspeaker) and Mac DeMarco. However, given time, a wonderful Frankenstein's monster of music manifested itself. The unofficial DJ role at Avoca changes depending on who's working, and that day, it changed hands several times. Before long, Power Trip was blaring from the speakers, which juxtaposed with its living room vibe. Not 10 minutes later, I was greeted with the age-old refrain "I don't want to lose your love tonight" from the Outfield. Lively is the word here.
- The Avoca Coffee referenced here is located at 1311 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. There's another Avoca at 835 Foch St., Fort Worth.
West Oak Coffee Bar, Denton
Despite West Oak looking, feeling and sounding like the world's first algorithmically generated coffee shop, I have a soft spot for this shop. Its musical selection has much in common with its décor: It's rustic and reliable. They seem almost obligated to play indie-folk tracks nearly a decade old, like Mumford and Sons deep cuts, Father John Misty, Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes. On occasion, treats such as Natalie Prass or Julie Byrne found their way into the mix. The relatable tunes faded into the background like heirloom furniture -- a great feature of any platlist.
West Oak Coffee Bar is located at 114 W. Oak St., Denton.
The Wild Detectives, Dallas
Of all the shops that made the cut, Wild Detectives has playlists with the most evidence of genuine care. Wild Detectives boasts three distinct playlists: one for weekday mornings, another for weekday evenings and one for the weekends. There is an eclectic blend of artists spanning all three lists including Al Green, the xx, Jenny Lewis, Beach House and John Coltrane. The only downside is while there is quite an amalgam of artists, roughly 10 songs per band have been packed in. That means if you have an aversion to one artist, it'll be awhile before you get some variety. For me, the playlists are a charming trip down memory lane.
The Wild Detectives is located at 314 W. Eighth St., Dallas.
Consider this place's playlist one that would drive John Cusack wild in High Fidelity. It is a master class in coffee shop atmosphere. The list has something for just about everyone and weighs in at a hefty 79 hours and 27 minutes long. It strikes a wonderful balance between indie and mainstream, with artists ranging from Diana Ross to Dirty Projectors as well as Adele, Yo La Tengo, Haim, Massive Attack, Lorde and Youth Lagoon, to name just a few. The selection feels like a finely crafted charcuterie board. (And there's always something like Swiss cheese sitting in the corner, the sort of thing that needs to be ignored. For me, that's Radiohead.) The list here offers light removal from work -- just enough to demand you take time to smell the roses, then get right back to the grind.
- The Mudsmith referenced here is located at 2114 Greenville Ave., Dallas. There's another, newer Mudsmith at 3111 Welborn St., in the Centrum building, in Dallas.
Shift Coffee, Denton
Did somebody tell them I was coming? First there was singer-songwriter powerhouse Angel Olsen, followed by neo-folk darling Kevin Morby, as well as similarly pleasant artists like Chastity Belt, Molly Burch, Sharon Van Etten and Japanese Breakfast. The music remained ambient but interesting, enough to satisfy passive listeners and music snobs alike, until it made a gradual transition into soft, accessible pop and hip-hop tunes, brandishing the likes of Anderson .Paak, Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood. Shift Coffee's playlist was nothing short of consistent, yet full of surprises.
Shift Coffee is located at 519 S Locust St., Denton.