There have been various points at various places — Seattle in the grungy 1990s, Vienna in the 1910s — when coffee shops were places to go plot the revolution. Part drinking establishments, part counter-culture havens, these smoke-filled, caffeine-fueled salons were less about what was in the cup than what Trotsky and his compatriots were discussing around the table.
Third wave coffee ruined this. Yes, the brew is infinitely better than the sludge you used to get. And it's fair trade and single estate and blah blah blah. But the obsessiveness over every last detail of the bean made coffee shops about — well, coffee. That's great if you want to obsess over shade-grown Yirgacheffe, but if you're trying to overthrow the government, it's just a distraction.
Fortunately, Maplewood's Stone Spiral (2500 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-335-7388) still provides that subversive coffee shop vibe, making it the metro's go-to spot for struggling writers, aging chess players and bidding revolutionaries. The place looks like if the philosophy department student lounge was decorated by aging hippies: There's the wall of "take one leave one" books (with titles you'd actually want to read), old concert posters and buttons, and eclectic artwork that could've come from a New Age shop. A small selection of café fare is available (hey, even Marxists have to eat). And yes, the coffee is good enough, but the conversations overheard are so much better.