Ugly Mugs is located in East Nashville, the same cool-kid neighborhood Barista Parlor lives in. Ugly Mugs is in a cute, trendy corner that also features a Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (they are splendid) and The Silly Goose restaurant. But it should be noted that Ugly Mugs was there first.
This coffee shop has a soft spot in our Coffee Shoppers' hearts because it is where we first met in person (awww). So, you could say we really have Ugly Mugs to thank for this blog today. Thank you, UM! Love you lots.
Ugly Mugs is one of the most laid-back and welcoming coffee shops we've been to. It's kind of the definition of a neighborhood friendly coffee shop.
The shop itself is both roomy and cozy, as it features well-loved, comfy furniture inside a warehouse-style building. Local art hangs on the wall, and indie music plays at a reasonable volume overhead. There are plenty of tables, both large and small, along with a few couplings of couches. There is also a row of "fishbowl seats" a la Fido (a bar facing a window).
The lighting in the front of the store is fairly bright, but there's a section in the back with low lighting for those who work best in such an environment. Like vampires. Or people who are just there to take a nap.
There is also a garage door in the front that is open in nice weather, and they have a patio on the side with outdoor seating. Adding to its neighborhood-friendly feel is a kids' area, which consists of a small green plastic table and chairs, complete with a bin of books and activities. No need to BYO Elmo here.
There are always plenty of people working in the shop--in fact, it's almost always near capacity. But when Elizabeth walked in, only one person looked up--a guy who seemed to be in the midst of a writer's block. There are generally a few couples, and sometimes some study groups or friends just hanging out. It's usually pretty quiet there if you need to get some work done, but thanks to the music, it's not so quiet you'd feel bad for talking.
We will warn you, however, that if you scoot your chair across the floor, it WILL make a horrendous screeching noise like a dying sea lion, and people WILL stop what they're doing and stare. So unless you want to make a scene, do not do this. We repeat: DO NOT DO THIS.
On Saturday nights, they often have live music, which usually features some quality songwriters from around town.
They're open 'til 11pm, which always gives a shop extra points in our book because, you know, day jobs and everything. Plus, if you come at the right time you'll probably get to hang out with Derek Webb.
E: Ugly Mugs has chai lattes, hot tea, and cremosas. The barista was very happy to explain cremosas to me, starting with "the history of the world." It really didn't take that long--they're basically italian cream sodas. I'm sure they're delicious. They also have hot chocolate and Mexican hot chocolate. I got the Mexican Hot Chocolate. Who could resist? It has vanilla, cinnamon, and maybe a bit of cayenne? It's not spicy, but has a bit of a kick.
It's something different and pretty delicious. I also read on Yelp that they have the best chai around (it's apparently not from a concentrate), so I'll have to come back sometime and try that when it's not past my caffeine curfew.
[Sidebar from L: I adore the Mexican Hot Chocolate, and was so tempted to get it but refrained so I could review coffee for you guys. We really are martyrs here at Coffee Shoppers. But really you should try it sometime. Update: I went back two days later and got MHC. ]
Cost: $3.50 for a medium (12 oz).
L: I consulted with the nice barista about which featured latte to try. I was tempted by lavender, as they make their own lavender syrup by infusing fresh lavender into simple syrup. But I'm not entirely sure if I like lavender coffee, so I chose to try their pumpkin latte. Plus, it's seasonal so it won't be around all the time. (I have had their vanilla countless times and already know it is delicious.) It was a little sweet for my taste, but I did ask for a fancy flavor, so I was kind of asking for that. Overall it was a good blend of spices and had no icky aftertaste like a certain drink I know with its own hashtag.
L: The latte art was pretty standard, and I made sure to NOT order skim milk this time after the embarrassing skim-milk-latte-art faux pas I mentioned last time in which I was informed skim milk does not make for good latte art.
Latte Art Grade: 7
L continued: The baristas are always super friendly at Ugly Mugs, which I think makes it distinctive from a lot of other shops. They engage you and want to get to know you, even if it's only for a few minutes. My husband was with me when we ordered, and he ordered the latte that made him start liking coffee (he once told a barista at Ugly Mugs that he didn't like coffee but wanted to and asked what he should get. They weren't even the least bit judgey and helped him determine a latte, and sure enough, it won him over). The barista seemed genuinely interested in this short anecdote, and then asked if he could tell us his "liking coffee" story. Turns out he worked at a boy scout camp and his cabin-mate stocked up on Starbucks Frappuccinos in the glass bottles. The story didn't really have a beginning, middle and an end but we appreciated the effort.
The only strange thing about Ugly Mugs is we never get our coffee in an ugly mug. They always give it to us in a to-go cup regardless. Is it by request only now? Are they moving away from the ugly mugs? Is it only for regular coffee and not specialty drinks? We need to know what the qualifications are, here. It is in the name, after all. Elizabeth saw one mug in the shop. It was not ugly. It was rather large and bright red.
They do have branded sleeves, though, which is always appreciated:
Fedora Count: 0
Newsboy Hat Count: 1
Black-rimmed glasses count: 2
Level of uncomfortableness upon walking in: 1. We have both been here several times, and it's not very judgey, but there was that one guy who turned around and stared when Elizabeth walked in. Writers' block or not, that's just unnerving.
Level of pretentiousness: 2. Being a nice coffee shop in East Nashville, there is always going to be a level of pretension in comparison to like, a McCafé. But the friendliness of the baristas and the non-fanciness of the presentation brings this level down a lot.
Parking: there is a lot in front of the building which extends down the hill (a semi-recent development due to the popularity of the shops in the area). The new area has also garnered an attitude of zero sympathy among more established Nashvillians. Comment on how little parking there is and you will be interrupted with a "It's SO much better than it used to be." You should be good on parking, but you can also park across the street on a side street if necessary.
In conclusion, we love Ugly Mugs and basically owe our friendship to the place. So you should give it a shot. Just make sure to pick your chair up when you move it.
Have you ever been to Ugly Mugs? Tried the Mexican Hot Chocolate? Tried to turn around in the parking lot? Tell us all about it.
[Quick note: We had written a brilliant and hilarious paragraph somewhere near the beginning of this post that conveyed perfect levels of admiration for Ugly Mugs and snark, as is our style. Somehow--we're blaming WordPress--this paragraph got deleted during the editing process. We remember none of it. We do remember that it was a magnificent work of prose that the world is now missing out on thanks to WordPress. So it has that on its conscience.]