Mercantile is the quintessential neighborhood coffee shop. Set in the middle of a residential area, the pacing is slower here and people tend to hang around longer. With $2 coffee and
$3 $4 beer, Mercantile opens its doors as a local joint where price doesn’t push away the community. They offer an ideal work space with one of the most spacious setups in Houston, lots of seating, ready power access, and generally stable Wi-Fi. While you might get harassed by one of the local characters while sitting on the patio, I like to think that’s part of the charm of this place.
There isn’t much to write about here. Mercantile offers a the same drinks you’d expect to find anywhere else without anything particular interesting in their interpretation. That being said, the espresso is often done well and it’s really hard to make a bad mocha. I’ve found the batch coffee to be lack luster compared to many of the neighboring shops. They’ve recently introduced match offerings. I have yet to try, but based on my experiences with the people here so far I won’t be getting my hopes up for it.
To really understand any city the size of Houston, you’ve got to understand its neighborhoods. Houston’s Montrose has a history rooted in artsy and alternative subculture. Historically a seedy area, Montrose is gentrifying as high end businesses take advantage of the relatively cheap rent in this part of town. Love it or hate it, that’s the way cities work. Mercantile is a bit of a holdout though. Artsy and progressive for sure, but not nearly as pretentious as some of it’s neighbors (**cough**Blacksmith**cough**).
The food situation here was pretty bleak for the first couple years this place was open. They have since partnered with Rojo’s Tacos to set up a food truck in the parking lot. While doughnuts and coffee might be an American breakfast classic, tacos and coffee is the Texan way and Mercantile delivers here which earns them points.
Attention to detail is where Mercantile has some problems though. The furniture and facilities can be poorly maintained. There was a hole in the wall of one of the bathrooms for months and the fabric on one of the couches was ripped down the middle for just as long. Dirty tables can sit for a while before another customer ends up cleaning them. These little things just make the place feel a bit dirty sometimes.
There is also a pretty clear difference between baristas when it comes to level of commitment/care/quality/whatever it may be. I’ll get into this a bit more in the staff section, but coffee running down the side of my cup makes for a bad picture and it makes me sad 😦
My biggest frustrations with Mercantile stem from the inconsistent quality of staff here. Most of the more senior staff are great. They’re in coffee because they know a lot about it and have lots of experience in customer service. The newer employees don’t always share this though. It seems some of them couldn’t care less about the shop or the service they provide; it’s just a job for some of the people here. That translates into that lack of attention to detail I mentioned above. Some of the staff here does the bare minimum which is disappointing. Generally speaking there will be at least one good barista who is invested in the quality of the work, but on slow shifts or off peak times that isn’t the case.
Mercantile serves good coffee in a relaxed environment. There isn’t much that’s unique about this place though. It has fallen victim to the starbucking trend that is sweeping local coffee shops. I feel that once you’ve been to one shop like these, you’ve been to them all. The drink menu is standard, the atmosphere is standard, the staff are standard. It’s all pretty good, but good isn’t necessarily a draw in a highly competitive market like that of coffee.
Mercantile’s biggest selling point is the ample work space and typical lack of crowds. Even on a busy day I’m able to find a place to sit with an outlet and there’s never any pressure for me to give up my seat. If you’re looking for a low key space to work away from home, this is for you. If you’re looking for something new and exciting, probably not as much.