This Side of the Bookshelf: A Review of the BTB Coffee Bar


Delia: Sitting in the dim barroom, Nick and I sipped our drinks pensively. I could tell what he was thinking. It was the same thing that was on my mind: whiskey. What had brought us to this corner of the world early on a Friday night? It had been me, asking him to go with me to review a Leonardtown speakeasy not three days previous…

Nick: I watched Delia walk to the back of of the BTB Coffee Bar. The sign was so small that we had almost missed it. It looked like your average café – small, hip, relaxed. But I knew that something about this joint was not the way it seemed. On the back wall, there was a phone. Not a modern phone, mind you, but the kind that kept the likes of Cagney and Bogart company in the old days, Delia told me. I wish I was smart enough to know what she was talking about. Delia picked up the phone as if a call was already waiting for her. She gabbed with a person on the other end for a minute or two, but I could not make out what she was saying. Then I saw her pull out a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and speak its contents into the mouthpiece.

Delia: I had to admit that walking into the coffeehouse, I was nervous. My whole story was riding on single tip from my editor and a ambiguous reservation made in hushed tones over the wire the day before. I brought a large party to back me up, chief among them Nick Brown, chum of my college days and a man of action. My reservation had come with a single phrase to be delivered on arrival: “Mafioso.” Corny perhaps, but what business was it of mine? Scanning the bright café, I saw no method for my password’s delivery, only relaxed teenagers chatting at the tables and youthful baristas absentmindedly tapping their fingers on the counter. Near a neat little bookshelf in the back of the room was a antiquated telephone. “Bingo,” I thought, picking up the receiver and sticking my ear to it. I waited a few moments as the phone dialed with no help from me. Then a voice came on the other end.

“Uh, sorry, we’re closed.”

This caught me off guard. “Uh…really?” I replied squarely. Suddenly my wits returned to me. I pulled the post-it I’d scribbled my information on, and said somewhat lacking in confidence, “…Mafioso?” There was a click on the other end of the line. Had I pulled a boner on this one? That’s when bookshelf swung open.

Nick: I had suspected that the bookshelf was more than a bookshelf. After all, I had heard that “BTB” stood for “Behind the Bookshelf.” Knowing this, however, did not prepare me for what faced me when the shelf swung open. It was like entering another world. There were no windows to invite prying eyes, nor were there televisions or any other technological distractions. This place was a conscious anachronism, but we walked in willing to believe. The dark red hues, the moody lighting, the catchy tunes from another time, the playful costumery; all of it drew us deeper into the spell. We could fill in the smoke and the sin with our own imaginations. Sitting back there, it was easy to forget that a modern coffee shop was just a bookcase away.

Delia: On the walls were mural tributes to the people of history who had marched to make this land once more a place where a man could live in liquid debauchery. Food specials lay tantalizingly before us, but it was the booze we were there for. There were beers, wines, and harder liquors, but the centerpiece were the cocktails. The bar’s list of specials was a sumptuous little selection of lovingly prepared spirits. Not cheap, mind you, at $9 a glass, but you don’t go to a speakeasy to nurse a Natty for two hours. By the time our genteel server Trey was back with my selection, I was itching to see what I’d gotten myself into. My drink, called an Airmail, smacked of honey and champagne, lime and coconut liquor. Other drinks sported names such as the Grand Manhattan, the Blueberry Lavender Mojito, the Capone’s Rita, and the Diamondback. Not a soul at the table was disappointed. When I asked Trey what the secret to all this was, he replied that it was local ingredients prepared by the establishment, and a focus not on a gimmick but on quality cocktails. BTB was trying not just to recreate drinks from a different time, but also add a twist to old classics and create something that cannot be replicated. I cannot overstate my satisfaction with this answer, and with my experience overall.

Nick: More than just the drinks were memorable. According to Delia, the flatbread is a homewrecker. Those compatriots of ours who were not ripe enough to enter the speakeasy also had positive things to say about the fare on the coffeehouse side of the wall. It’s impressive that the BTB Coffee Bar has relied on word of mouth to find its patrons. It’s a cozy establishment, but it seems to have found a crowd with its unique appeal. Scrutinizing palettes will be pleased by what they find, as will those seeking the excitement of something out of the ordinary. Good drinks, good food, the feeling of secrecy, and the ability to share an experience – if you go, you’ll feel like you are where you’re supposed to be.

BTB Coffee Bar can be found online at 1/2 off your first drink if you wear a fedora, so says the menu! Reservations required.