1. Where the Sun Shines in Seattle
It doesn't come as a surprise that Starbucks dominates on its home turf. The coffee behemoth's Madison Park café borders on iconic, while its University Village location--amid an Apple store, a Microsoft store, and the first Amazon store--comes in a close second. But for techies in Pioneer Square--the city's bustling startup "nerve center," according to John Nelson, director of business development for tech recruiter BroadPoint Group--Zeitgeist Coffee is the place to gather. Along with the bustling crowd, Nelson says, its rotating gallery of art by Seattle artists gives you "that feeling of creativity along with strong coffee, which is a potent mix." Dan Shapiro, founder of 3-D laser printing company Glowforge, takes meetings at Zeitgeist because of its noisy intimacy. "It's the kind of place where you have privacy because there's so much going on," he says. Madrona Venture Group managing director Matt McIlwain points out that it also offers one thing difficult to come by in Seattle: "It has great light on a sunny day, with all those big windows," he says.
Signature drink: Hemp Latte, made with espresso and hemp milk (sorry, no THC).
2. Preciously Crafted Coffee
Houndstooth Coffee has a driving philosophy any tech entrepreneur would appreciate: "Houndstooth is the simplest pattern," says Paul Henry, who leaves no detail unattended to at the minimalist café he operates with his brother Sean. It sits inside downtown Austin's Frost Bank Tower, home to private equity funds like Vista Equity Partners. While Houndstooth does take its coffee snobbery seriously--with pour-overs and "palate training" classes--it also encourages playful interaction among its guests, with a rotating three-course experimental menu that includes "deconstructed brewed coffee" and an "espresso and cheese pairing." Although Houndstooth regular Blake Garrett, founder and CEO of edtech startup Aceable, says the café's backless stools, designed by a local, aren't exactly comfortable, they do deliver. While sitting on one, he's managed to raise $50,000 from angel investor Jay Washburn and $15,000 from Andrew Busey, a serial entrepreneur and partner at Capital Factory, an incubator four blocks north of the café.
Signature drink: The Timepiece, an espresso blend of Ethiopian, Colombian, and Brazilian beans, roasted by Houndstooth's proprietary coffee roaster in Dallas, which is aptly named Tweed.
3. Dining Under the Radar
Des Moines's snaking skywalk system--nearly four miles of raised interior walkways linking most of the city's downtown buildings--might seem like an obvious place for local entrepreneurs to convene, but Ben Milne says its high traffic is the very reason he prefers to meet slightly off the beaten path. Americana, which has gourmet comfort food like truffle mac and cheese and Thai tacos, sits just outside the skywalk, giving Milne, founder and CEO of the digital payments startup Dwolla, the privacy he needs when meeting with his Union Square Ventures backers or fashion entrepreneur Marc Ecko, another investor. "Americana is just close enough to the skywalk that it's not really that painful to get to, but just far enough away that not everyone will go," says Milne of the bistro, which is owned by local restaurateurs Scott Carlson and Mike Utley and also happens to use Dwolla's payments system.
Signature dish: BLT with peppered brown sugar bacon.
4. The Everyman's Country Club
Pinewood Social sounds like a contradiction. The brainchild of local Nashville brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg, the country club, with two dipping pools, a bowling alley, and a bocce ball court, has no membership fee--and that's the point. This nonexclusive compound serves as the center of gravity for Nashville entrepreneurs who are equally content slogging through an 18-hour shift (how long Pinewood operates daily) or meeting for cocktails before noon (its bar opens at 11 a.m.). Vic Gatto, co-founder of health care innovation fund Jumpstart Foundry, uses the two-year-old club as a backdrop for, really, anything. He recently invited a group of physicians there to find out about their biggest frustrations, and subsequently pitched an entrepreneur a business idea to address them, offering up himself as an investor. "The solution and the company got invented at two different tables at Pinewood," Gatto says of the new startup, Affirm Health, which launched in the spring of 2016.
Signature drink: Southern Limerick, a Southern spin on Irish coffee with rye, amaro, coffee, bitters, and cream.
5. From Slope to Saloon
Entrepreneurs in once-dry Salt Lake City often go to stalwarts like Bambara--a restaurant located within the Hotel Monaco, a converted turn-of-the-20th-century bank--but the more intrepid end up at High West. The sprawling whiskey distillery 30 miles east of Salt Lake City, in the shadow of the Wasatch Range, is where Experticity CEO Tom Stockham took a Silicon Valley Bank executive after they had laid the groundwork for a $10 million loan. The two biked through Park City to arrive at the distillery, which has a ski-in entrance and fire pits. "It's stunning how many people make deals there," says the marketing firm CEO of the boozy destination owned by husband and wife David and Jane Perkins. "People fly into Park City for an investor conference or the Sundance Film Festival, and the locals go there too," he says.
Signature drink: Rendezvous Rye, a blend of young and aged whiskeys.
6. Rubbing Elbows in L.A.
If Soho House is for the West Hollywood set, Tavern is for those cutting deals in swanky Brentwood. Despite its ill-timed launch during 2008--"We raised all of the money, and then the economy crashed," says its James Beard Award-winning chef-founder Suzanne Goin--Tavern has since emerged as the spot where entrepreneurs, investors, agents, celebs, and athletes go to gab--typically over breakfast. On a recent morning, Amir Tehrani, the city of L.A.'s first entrepreneur-in-residence, was in Tavern's airy glass atrium when he spotted the former president of SBE Entertainment, the founder of startup incubator Science, and entrepreneur-activist Bobby Shriver, all before 9 in the morning. Another recent sighting: the reclusive Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel in the wild, meeting with "notable Northern California VCs."
Signature dish: Lemon ricotta pancakes with blackberry compote, lemon, and pistachios.
7. Death With a Shot of Espresso
Four years ago, Justin Miller's then 13-person photo-sharing company, WedPics, was evicted for operating out of his home. Fortunately, he landed at HQ Raleigh, an incubator just steps away from Café de los Muertos, a coffeehouse that's become one of the hottest dealmaking spots in North Carolina's Research Triangle. Paying homage to the Mexican Day of the Dead--"Respect the Dead. Drink Great Coffee" is the café's cheeky tagline--its outdoor seating and second story lend a breezy vibe for founders of younger startups trying to woo board members from local tech companies like Red Hat and Citrix, located nearby. Three years after WedPics' relocation, Miller invited an angel investor to meet at his new favorite café, where he scored a $50,000 investment.
Signature dish: Breakfast burrito.
8. A Respite Under the Bridge
With dozens of startups and a handful of co-working spaces, the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood Dumbo has cemented its status as New York City's entrepreneurial hub. Brooklyn Roasting Company, housed in a rambling old warehouse on a remote cobblestone street, was founded by Jim Munson, a former Brooklyn Brewery delivery driver-turned-executive. Vintage couches and exposed beams dot the café-roastery, an ambiance Big Spaceship founder Michael Lebowitz likes to throw prospective job candidates into. "There's no hierarchy of seating in a coffee shop," says the digital agency CEO. On a recent second-round interview, Lebowitz was delighted when "I was grilled with a lot of questions more penetrating than I often get. I can't 100 percent say it was because of the environment, but it correlates well."
Signature dish: Smoked duck and collard pie.