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Coffee Republic, Waterstones, Nottingham, UK

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Waterstones is a well-respected book retailer with branches across the United Kingdom. It's known for pleasant surroundings, dark wood shelves and a nice line in carpet. The Waterstones in question here lies just off the centre of Nottingham on Bridlesmith Gate, on the corner of Bottle Lane. The exterior is the traditional black-and-gold of the company brand, facing down a long lane, edged with trees, near a church. The interior was heavily refurbished in early 2000, offering four floors of books in a vaguely disinfected style.

Where Is Coffee Republic?

On the third floor, reached by stairs or a shuddering lift, is Coffee Republic, an in-store coffee bar and common addition to the Waterstones chain1. With anything from classical to jazz music feeding seamlessly through in the background and warm timber floors offsetting the near septic sensation of the main bookstore tiles, it's very easy to be lured into a - possibly illusory - sense of comfort.

However, this is not a place for the equilibrium-impaired. There is an indefinable slant, something that might only be perceptible if you carry around a personal spirit level or plumb bob, which gives you a muzzy feeling somewhere at the back of your eyes. Possibly a side-effect of the refit, perhaps a slight difference in the angles between store and café floor, maybe a trick of the light or caffeine fumes - whatever, it is very disconcerting.

What's It Like?

If you manage to regain your balance you will probably find the place to be a delightful nook, a solace of quiet and calm. There are three large windows each with a table and two deep, comfy chairs in front. Between the till and the windows there are more tables, but these don't quite have the allure of the window seats. The area is completely non-smoking, being attached to a bookstore after all. Having stepped across the line between shop and coffee bar - a transition from pale tiles to timber - you find light walls hung with artistic images of coffee and several dozen little plaques with reviews. It feels something like walking into the back page of a paperback book - reviews from The Observer, Vogue and The Independent on Sunday proclaim the high quality of the coffee and the surroundings.

Students frequent the bar, along with businessmen and middle-aged women mid-shop during the day; a plethora of expensive spectacles, fine suits and sweaters. The near silence of the store spills over, forcing most conversations into a strained whisper that seems the only way to speak in this context. The view outside along the road is very pleasant with plenty of shoppers passing by to absorb the attentions of people-watchers. Throughout the year the tall windows provide plenty of invigorating light and a sensation of airiness. People sit here studying, reading books, chatting aimlessly - until they finally realise how late in the day it is and what appointments they've missed.

And then there's also that funny feeling in the middle of their heads making their vision swim every time they turn to look around...

What About the Food?

The coffee is good, which is important in a coffee shop. There isn't too much milk in the cappuccinos or too much froth on the lattes. The measures are good and the quality of the beans is fine. You can get all the standard types of coffee along with tea, bottled juices and mineral waters, pre-packed smoothies and freezers and iced coffees and teas - of which the Mocha Freezer is particularly worth experiencing.

The food manages to exceed the quality of the coffee, with good pre-packed sandwiches2 and a fine selection of muffins, flapjacks and packets of Oreo cookies. Particularly recommended are the slices. The Toffee Apple Cinnamon Squares combine fruitiness, chewiness and a delicious crunchy topping to present a fine accompaniment to your drink.

Note, while you can bring books from the store into the coffee bar you can't take food and drink into the store for consumption. Overall, the prices for food and drink are higher than average, however it is possible to take away at a reduced rate on most items.

1Borders was the first chain bookstore to offer in-house coffee bars. The first one opened in the downtown Philadelphia store, US, in the fall of 19902Chicken Caesar Salad is particularly recommended.

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