With so much new development occurring along Roosevelt Row, it’s nice to be reminded of the value of long-standing buildings that have somehow survived decades of neglect and the demolition of their neighbors. One of those is the Gold Spot, officially known when it opened in 1925 as the Gold Spot Marketing Center. This building, originally used as a grocery and shopping center in what was then considered a far-flung suburb, now functions as space for neighborhood businesses, including something that nearly every neighborhood needs: a coffee house.
Lola Coffee occupies one of the Gold Spot’s retail sites facing Roosevelt, despite an address on nearby Third Avenue. The location is three blocks west of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. Lola has bike racks both out front along Roosevelt and in back next to its attractive patio, which is accentuated with a carefully tended container garden. Inside, Lola shows respect for its building’s vintage with weathered wood tables, comfortable couches, and natural light from abundant windows.
Lola’s lineage originated several miles to the north in the Uptown neighborhood of Phoenix. A decade ago, Lola Tapas served small plates of Spanish bar food at big community tables. Soon after, Lola Coffee appeared at Central and Highland. Both are no longer around, but the current incarnation of Lola at the north end of Downtown Phoenix blends the best of both worlds. Of course, there’s coffee, roasted on site, and plenty of pastry, all baked in-house, but there’s also a subtle Spanish influence that shows in some of the savory selections on the breakfast menu.
While some coffee shops feature an assortment of pastry from different sources and of different degrees of freshness, Lola opens each morning at 7 AM, and the display case at the front counter quickly fills with a wide variety of items baked earlier that morning. Many are breakfast classics like croissants. Lola’s are more circular than crescent shaped, but the buttery flavor and flaky texture are instantly familiar. Muffins include one that combines peanut butter, chocolate chip, and banana, a combination that Elvis Presley would have appreciated, with a bit of bonus peanut butter on top.
The Spanish influence shows with a tortilla — not the flat Mexican bread used in everything from tacos to soup, but instead a layered dish of sliced, roasted potatoes and egg accentuated with little bits of red bell pepper. There’s also a daily quiche for those who like breakfast casseroles. Made-to-order items include hot bowls of oatmeal, eggy breakfast sandwiches, and breakfast burritos. With the last item, a daily special often involving some combination of eggs, chorizo, vegetables, and cheese, is the most economical. Custom burritos are available for a bit more.
For later in the day, plenty of baked goods are available as snacks or desserts. Tarts, cookies, scones, and cupcakes in numerous varieties fill the case. To drink, Lola’s house-roasted drip coffee is available, as are any number of espresso drinks and a house specialty, the Matador, which is essentially a cinnamon mocha. Tea, if ordered “for here” is served in a proper pot, reinforcing the notion that Lola can be a place to linger. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is available each morning, and can be combined with espresso in an acidic, off-menu “sunrise” beverage.
Lola wasn’t the first coffee house to arrive on Roosevelt Row, but it came along before many shops in the current wave of development. With each coffee place having its own niche, Lola’s expertise seems to be in its first-rate bakery and its relaxing atmosphere. Other shops may be better for quick to-go orders or special dietary needs, but for unabashed exaltation of coffee and pastry in a neighborhood environment, coupled with a signature Spanish twist, Lola seems to have defined its own identity as distinctive as the historic Gold Spot building it occupies.
1001 N. 3rd Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003