. . . or the Starbucks or the Starbucks. Summertime has (prematurely?) hit Arlington, and the brown flip flops are out in force. Bro-tasticness, axe body spray and the whiff of vodka-and-cranberry are in the air. If you need an iced-coffee , you’ve got to head Clarendon’s unofficial sponsor.

Well no more! Finally, something has broken the stranglehold Seattle’s global monster on our beloved(?) neighborhood. That is Northside Social, at the corner of Fairfax and Wilson, kitty-corner to the Silver Diner.

Before you even get in the door, you’ll walk past a half-dozen metal tables and chairs, although the new concrete patio has room for probably twice as many. The sunshine is nice, although the traffic on Wilson makes it feel more urban than placid. Still, very enjoyable.

Inside is another story. The décor is all natural woods, subtle cream walls, and tons of natural lighting. When I’m in a Starbucks, a Cosi, or a Caribou, it strikes me as some hyper-modern, glass and steel dystopia. But Northside has the atmosphere of a (busy) corner store, a old building lovingly used, and gently restored. The mismatched chairs are very comfortable, adding to the ramshackle yet inviting feel of the place. There are four main seating areas; outside in the sun and traffic, inside in the main room, a smaller, sunnier upstairs, and a small intimate back room.

The main room has several tables, a couch or two, and a long bar in front of the off-street windows. The clatter and chatter of employees behind the coffee bar mixes with the aroma of the brews to really dominate the room. This is less a place to do work and more a place to people watch, to mingle, and talk.

The upstairs is more traditional coffee-shop atmosphere. It’s much more tranquil and much more personal than the main room. There are plenty of tables, and I noticed more of what I thought of ‘coffee shop folks’. I noticed a professor from neighboring GMU Law, a law student, several folks with their laptops, and one or two people relaxing with a newspaper. There was very little conversation, and a lot more caffeinated work.

The back room is my favorite. It’s very small, without any tables. There are a couch and easy chairs, and my favorite feature, a double sided mini-bar of dark wood, with matching stools in a corner dominated by tall windows. Northside takes up residence on the spot of old neighborhood favorites Murky or Common Grounds, praised by such former Arlington denizens (Arlingtenizens?) as tip-top journalist Peter Suderman (who, it turns out, may or may not be a hipster). It’s yet to be seen if Northside can establish such a place in the heart of the neighborhood, but based on our experience, it stands a good shot.

It might seem silly to talk about the actual coffee last, but I’m afraid Starbucks’ success proves that coffee quality hardly makes or breaks a coffee shop. I’ve covered my taste in coffee before, so take this with a grain of salt. (Note: do not actually salt your coffee.) Northside uses Counter Culture Direct Trade coffee.

Direct Trade is an attempt to establish “a new standard for supply chain transparency”, according to the in-store brochure. This “high-quality, sustainably produced” coffee marketed with a “clear set of quality-driven principles” is an alternative to the fair trade mark that been around for awhile now.

Counter Culture touts ironically popular values like ecological responsibility, transparency, and consideration for working conditions. There’s also a big deal made about “Personal & Direct Communication” with growers. Overall, the coffee rated pretty high with our tasters, although they couldn’t explain how communication affected the roast. So if less interested in a cup of joe’s metaphysical patina and more with it’s taste and caffeine content, no worries. Northside has you covered on both counts, without being overly pretentious. There’s also a small alcohol service, with wines ranging from affordable to extravagant.

We didn’t try any of the homemade baked goods, by executive chef Liam LaCivita, but they looked and smelled fantastic. Between the awesome décor, the good service, coffee, wine, and cakes, you can trust we’ll be regulars.