Where: The Bunker House Cafe & Social Lounge, 322 N. Cleveland St., Suite B, Oceanside, CA 92054
Open: Sunday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
What: Batch brew Coatl Coffee
What I’m listening to: Frank Sinatra, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
It’s one of those cold under the clouds, hot in the sun, SoCal winter mornings that can’t decide what kind of day it wants to be. I layer up* and go for a walk in downtown Oceanside. Ever notice how similar businesses clump together? Along Cleveland Street just north of Pier View Way, I stumble into one such grove. I could get coffee at five different spots within a few hundred yards. I choose The Bunker House.
I only know The Bunker House from Instagram, but a quick tour of its website leads me to a short history of the building, which dates back to the 1800s. The brick building was originally owned by Theodore Bunker and has survived by evolving through the generations.
In the past 135-plus years, the building has been a home, hotel, brothel and storefront. According to the current occupants of the building, it has been used “for town hall meetings, dances [and] church services.”
What does any of that have to do with my coffee-drinking experience? Nothing, except that I like old buildings. Brick, in particular, seems to retain and evoke the collective feeling of place. On a coast that wasn’t heavily developed until well into the twentieth century (compared to the long-haired cities of the East Coast), an old brick building with lots of nooks and crannies is a rarity.
I walk into this one, through an open seating area, and into the main cafe space to order a coffee. I’m pleasantly surprised that the batch-brewed coffee is from Coatl Coffee, an Oceanside roaster featuring bird-friendly coffees. Many of Coatl Coffee’s beans come from a family-owned farm in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute provides the Bird Friendly certification. “When you purchase Bird Friendly certified coffee or cocoa, you preserve critical habitat for birds and wildlife, fight climate change, protect biodiversity, and support farmers committed to conserving bird and wildlife habitat by farming sustainably.”**
I order a medium which is delivered in a much bigger cup than anticipated. When the barista tells me it is only $2.00, I put my credit card away and pull some cash from my pocket. They had another batch of hazelnut-flavored coffee available and plenty of coffee drinks to choose some.
I prefer to stick with the stock black batch brew when trying a new coffee shop. It helps me gauge the coffee’s quality and the barista’s skills. Plus, if a cafe has its batch brew dialed in well, I’m imbued with the confidence to venture out and explore their other offerings. It’s the lowest hanging fruit on the menu — it should be good!***
This one is pretty solid, and I feel like a pretentious snob for presuming that I was going to be getting a generic cup of coffee. The coffee menu features a full line-up of flavored coffee and tea drinks, including seasonal offerings like a candy cane chai latte and Abuelita’s Hot Chocolate. There is also a full food menu heavy on breakfast, lunch, and snack meals.
The Bunker House looks like a smaller corner space from the front street, but that is a deception. Beyond the front porch, the dining room, and the cafe counter, is another small room featuring a five-seat beer and wine bar. It easily feels like it could be an in-the-know sort of happy hour bar in the pre-COVID era.
In our current time, I’m happy to see an open door leading to a huge, and I mean huge, outdoor space. Again, multiple spaces offer the impression of privacy, but the main area is essentially a giant rectangle.
The ground is covered in thick faux grass. Long communal tables fill the center, and lounge spaces bookend the space. The larger lounge even features a fire pit — which isn’t turned on despite the clouds — and a pulldown screen, which I assume is used to screen films, sports, and wedding party slideshows.
I pick one of the lounge areas to sit for a minute and wonder why more people aren’t here mid-morning. For the moment, it is just another gent with his Frenchie and me out in the backyard. A pair of collaborators work on laptops in the front.
Halfway through my coffee, I’m feeling the chill of California December, and I get up to head inside. As I pass a calming water fountain, I notice another full seating area around the side of the building. I’m surprised to find an entirely different patio area that runs the length of the building out to the front street. I take a moment to appreciate the morning and sit at a wrought iron patio table.****
The Bunker House, the building, and the business have been a surprise. I’m surprised I can still be surprised after visiting so many coffee shops. I’m glad I came. I’ll be back again some morning when the sun isn’t in danger of being obscured, and I’m feeling inspired to learn more about the history of Oceanside.
*I’m a transplant, and as such, I feel comfortable saying that year one, newcomers dress like tourists — shorts and flip-flops all year long. Stick it out for a few winters, and you’ll adapt. This is my tenth winter season, and I’m not leaving the house on a morning like today without a thick fleece and a stocking cap. I’m still wearing those flip-flops, though.
**Many farmers, especially small farmers, provide bird-friendly environments but don’t apply for the certification due to the expenses associated with certification.
***I also theorize that a restaurant that carries good quality toilet paper cares more about its product, employees, and customer. That care translates into the food, drink, and experience. A bad restaurant might have decent TP in the bathroom, but a great one never has 1-ply.
****Tables, railings, fences, and fireplace pokers are often still described as wrought iron, despite being made primarily of steel. This is due to the distinctive look of wrought ironwork from the past. New steel products are made to look like old iron ones. Humans are quite nostalgic.
Always tip your baristas, and be sure to drink good coffee. Get more Bean Journal on roastwestcoast.com or listen to the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast on Spotify. Follow @RoastWestCoast on Instagram.