Lost at SEA

Architecture & Urbanism of Seattle and beyond

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    Bikini Baristas

    Evan Chakroff
    Jul 15, '14 5:06 PM EST

    A few years ago, as I prepared to move to China from Italy, I anticipated some serious withdrawal symptoms. I had grown accustomed - no, dependent - on Rome's ubiquitous cafes. Any slot of space big enough to hold an espresso machine could qualify. Place a rickety table out on the cobblestones, and you're in business. My daily routine would take me to these cafe-bars four or five times daily... for a morning croissant and doppio with soda back, a few times throughout the day for a cappuccino or americano (iced in summer, though I always felt a little guilty about this...), and, usually, after work for a beer or two. These cafes were everywhere, and I knew I would miss them. While Shanghai had its fair share of Starbucks and a few other chains, "real" cafes were sparse... and those that had invested in the bulky, imported, expensive equipment were usually too crowded to be enjoyable. 

    So, I was excited to move to Seattle, in part due to its famous coffee culture. While Starbucks is dominant, the city is blanketed with other, better, spots for your caffeine fix, and I was pleased to find that few even followed the Italian model, with walk-up windows and sidewalk seating. What I couldn't anticipate was the phenomenon of the Bikini Barista

    The concept is self-explanatory. Over the past 15 years or so (according to Wikipedia) Washington state's road-side espresso bars have gotten increasingly racy, with competing shops marketing themselves with titillating names and the promise of scantily-clad young women. These "sexpresso" stands have proven controversial, of course, and though interest seems to have waned after media coverage peaked around 2010, there are a number of them still doing brisk business, with employees in various stages of undress. Today, most of the Bikini Baristas have covered up, and there's nothing more shocking than what you'd see at a Hooters or Twin Peaks (the stands are still invariably staffed by attractive young women).

    But wait: road-side espresso stands?!

    While Seattle is a fairly walkable city, to really get the most out of the Pacific Northwest's amazing landscape, you'll need a car, and for the long drives, you'll need to stay caffeinated. Like all American cities, Washington's sub- and ex-urban landscape is dominated by automobile infrastructure. While there a number of major interstate highways, for the most part, traveling in Washington state means traversing the state-routes with their lower speed limits, occasional traffic lights, and their road-side drive-through coffee shops.

    Perfectly scaled for their environment, these shacks would be vanishingly small when viewed from an Interstate, but with the smaller setbacks and lower speeds of a state route, they easily catch the eye. While they take a variety of forms, and vary in size (and occasionally include a kitchen and seating), the vast majority are pre-fab shacks, big enough to hold an espresso machine, ice machine, refrigerator, and one or two employees. Set back from the highway, these free-standing structures are typically set in the parking areas of gas stations or other businesses, providing fast and cheap caffeine hits for travelers.  

    Though clearly not exclusive to the Pacific Northwest, the ubiquity of the espresso shack here is intriguing, and the typology stands as one of the region's more interesting forms of roadside architecture.


    • awaiting_deletion

      That might just convince a mountain dew guy to switch to coffee....nice shacks

      Jul 15, 14 6:50 pm  · 

      I'm trying to convince my local roaster to do this.

      Jul 15, 14 10:28 pm  · 

      It's a brilliant model, bikinis or not, (and, actually, I haven't seen a single location where the staff wears anything more revealing than low-cut tops...) since they only serve one product and the lines move through quickly, and the coffee is of vastly higher quality than what you'd get at a fast food drive-through (even Starbucks, which out in the boonies likely has a push-button automatic deal rather than a real Italian-style espresso machine). 

      Next step, I suppose, is to contact the management for one of these sheds, and start pitching design ideas!

      Jul 15, 14 10:36 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      using a woman as a sexual object to sell a product? yes, very original

      Jul 15, 14 11:48 pm  · 

      T a m m u z that was a very unoriginal thought ; ) I am a bar guy and that is where objectification occurs both sides of the game. I don't enter coffee shops as there is nothing there for me, but when I do I want to slice my wrist and avoid such superflous talk about instinct denial of the sexes if a barista wants to be objectified we are making progress. The shack allows guys like me who would most certainly slice there wrists after 15 minutes in a coffee shop a way out - a way to avoid the culture that tags along - Apple only users reading books on socialism written by millionaires, people listening to post rock crap who are ordering grandes instead of a large? Fuck it - supersize me with a donut and blast some ACDC littld miss barista on roller skates in a tight tank top and shorts - you see the vehicle I am in, its got a V8 in it.

      Jul 16, 14 7:38 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      i'm just against men using their bodies to sell you whatever. the gay scene is littered with this - i can't believe how many guys there are who want to make up for whatever lack of confidence they have in themselves so they rush to buy the same pair of underwear their favourite porn star wears in order to think that they're starring in their version of the some porn flick. 

      i'm not prudish, i'm not dissing nudist beaches (where its not about selling anything really except your sagging body in a figurative meaning of selling) or sexual relations ...but sexualized commercialism is cheap,unimaginative and littering. i mean, its everywhere - where Evan Chakroff wants us to think its an original morphing of the coffee place, i think its an redundant, unroginal intrusion of commercial sexualization into yet another domain. Its not longer original. You're celebrating a sexual counter-revolution...the sexual revolution had achieved apotheosis a long time ago. Now, its all about incarcerating men and women within their own sexualities. thats a counter-revolution

      Architects easily fall for all kinds of bullshit just because, on the surface, it appears to be novel. 

      Jul 16, 14 8:12 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      And to clarify (as i was well aware that sexualized commercialism works on both genders), I assumed that the article was solely tackling women since it states "Bikini Baristas", features females in the photograph and...well, a guy in a bikini would not be really bringing in many customers i assumed . Hence, I restrained from bringing that up  (until you did) because it was irrelevant. 

      Jul 16, 14 8:27 pm  · 

      Option #1: Hey - little miss barista turn-up the AC/DC! It's getting superfluous in here.

      Option #2: I drive away in my V8, a few revs on the engine...listen to the Hemi four barrel! Nothing like a coffee shack to allow me to escape the coffee shop culture.

      Jul 16, 14 10:00 pm  · 

      Tammuz, as I see it, there are two different things going on here:

      1. The sexualized commercialism which you note - and which is of course nothing novel. This is crass at best, and potentially exploitative if we assume the women are somehow "pressed" into service. As far as I can tell, the "g-string and pasties" stands have for the most part disappeared thanks to local outcry and/or ordinances. 

      2. The surprising transformation of the drive-in typology. I have no idea when these coffee shacks started to appear, but I assume it was sometime after the development of the drive-through burger joint, and the *shrinking* of the structure seems to buck the trend somewhat: consider fast food restaurants adding "amenities" like kids play areas or arcade games, expanding menu offerings, which requires greater prep space. By focusing down on one product, done well, and served quickly, I do think these shacks represent an innovation in the drive-through typology.

      I see these as two different discussions, really.

      Jul 16, 14 10:44 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      Evan I see your point but , eh, your title is Bikini Barista and the whole first part is dedicated to it

      Besides that, I see your point. But I disagree with this: 

       This is crass at best, and potentially exploitative if we assume the women are somehow "pressed" into service. 

       Women don't have to be "pressed" into service in order for it to count as being exploitative. Sexualized commercialism is exploitative in more ways than one. Many women might actually be a happy-go-lucky party to it. But they contribute further to prejudice against women - in terms of feeding that culture of using them up as branded sexual objects, increasing the disparity between women in terms of looks ( the man's regard of a woman gives her valour) , etc. 

      As for driveway coffee place, i remember being drive up to one in Portland ...but it was attached to an actual café with seating inside for those who chose. 

      Are there any other such small drive-by shacks that offer other products (ice cream, donuts, etc...)? Or are these completely novel -as you say- typologically (rather than as (functional) type)? 

      Jul 17, 14 1:31 am  · 

      1. These are facts of life we can spend hours talking about in a coffee shop and we can all spin it in any direction for whatever psychological reasons we see fit or aren't aware of............................. 2. Typology - this aspect we can talk about and make into facts that affect life. I would suggest a coffee needs considerably less equipment and therefore a shack typology works for the product. Do these shacks require parking? Or do ordinances have any additional requirements on the shack? Are the shacks even legal to code and zoning?

      Jul 17, 14 7:19 am  · 

      Olaf, your post is disgusting. To YOU it's fine to joke about the girl (object, to you) in a bikini just being part of the "facts of life". To women and girls the world is a distinctly more dangerous place than you are willing to acknowledge due almost entirely to points of view like yours.

      I sincerely hope you're being facetious.

      Jul 17, 14 11:08 am  · 

      I am donna I am...the real guy behind olaf is married with two daughters....don't take olaf too seriously especially if he is being offensive because if he is being offensive its intentional to point out the absurd but real, as you say - dangerous...point of views...I drive a 4 cylinder vehicle in real life when I am not mass transiting ; )

      Jul 17, 14 6:37 pm  · 

      Donna I was in character (Dazed and Confused)

      anyway, does  a lot of loitering go on outside these shacks?

      Jul 17, 14 9:09 pm  · 

      Think I will open the Banana  Hammock ,low sling coffee shop.  I will target the Fringe of Shopping Malls...What you think Tammuz?  Hire only buff young boys who lost employment working as Cabana Boys.  That is the Ticket!

      Jul 19, 14 7:39 pm  · 

      I heard a comedy bit about opening a hooters-like place where scantily clad men will serve and the best part is instead of chicken wings, they are known for their basket of teeny weenies. Feel free to steal this idea, I have a name for you too, Shooters. 

      Jul 20, 14 9:13 am  · 

      There is only one but Gainesville happens to have one too. Much more interesting that the typical drive-through Starbucks...

      Jul 21, 14 8:56 pm  · 

      Women should be able to feel free to wear bikinis in coffee shops if they want when appropriate.  Telling a girl she should be ashamed of her body because some dumbass guy says she's a sexualized object is ridiculous.  Are we really not to a point yet where men can stop trying to control women without feeling insecure about themselves?

      Jul 22, 14 10:39 am  · 
      chatter of clouds

      curtkram, since I was the one who used that term  -sexualized object- then i have all the right to assume your post had me in mind..therefore: 


      Firstly, thank you for calling me dumbass. It shows a lot of decency on your part and definitely adds a lot of value to your post. You are, indeed, able to criticize opinions without dropping cheap insults that might, in this case,  better describe yourself than others. 

      Secondly, the question is not about whether they should feel free to wear bikinis in coffee shops but about it being a costume (either required or encouraged) tailored to lure men in to buy products - therefore a sexualized object, a sexual accessory to the product. If you refer to my previous posts, I have, in order to make clear that my intention is neither to be prudish or to restrict women or men, stated that I am not against even naturism - nudism  which is truly born from a free will without any commercial tether. In fact, in general, I find the general US American schizophrenic attitude towards sex bizzare: on one hand, nudism is not as accepted as it is in other parts of the world, on the other, their commercial and entertainment industry has tethered itself to the lowest base sexual denominator. 

      But obvious,those who wield insults that better describe them against others will not be able to exceed the limits set by such insults.  

      Jul 22, 14 10:58 am  · 

      my comment was really directed towards all dumbasses who think men should be controlling what women can and can't do.  of course this is coming off the recent supreme court decision where a bunch of men decided it was up to them to decide what options women should have with regards to reproductive health decisions, so it really is an issue bigger than you.

      i do appreciate how you added your 'hate america' tone in your most recent post.  typically when i see your posts, i ask myself if it's related to hatred towards america, or killing jews, or destroying israel.  if your comment meets any of those 3 requirements, i typically stop reading.  you've already stated you don't trust any typical media sources, but rather search out the conspiracy nuts who affirm the messed up biases you already carry, so it's not like you can really add relevant insight to those topics anyway.

      Jul 22, 14 11:42 am  · 
      chatter of clouds

      when did i speak of killing jews...that is a despicable baseless accusation. Again, you're not able to exceed the limits set by the insult you wield against others, If you are not able to follow my posts, then you're not able to speak of what I say and I don't say. 

      Again, you live down to the insult you wielded against others. 

      There is a point when calling claiming someone who is clearly against all forms of racism and bigotry, who supports the application of human rights across the board AND who believes in the right for a victim to defend her or himself, claiming that this person is  a supporter of killing jews just as bad as anti-semitism. it is a blind hatred obfuscated by illogical cliches and demonization of the other. 

      and Im not attacking the US or hating on it. Its knows that nudism is far more frowned upon in the US than in other places. And lets not forget that the US anthem itself contains reference to God and so on. Im just amused by the schizophrenia noted in my above post. 

      Jul 22, 14 11:53 am  · 

      Nam that is one tight coffee stand. I would like to see thw fiking drawings on that one.

      Jul 22, 14 9:16 pm  · 

      Great post, I'll be in the area next month. Any somewhat close to "urban" Seattle that you recommend? 

      Jul 23, 14 9:41 am  · 

      LITS4FormZ - The drive-thru stands aren't very common in Seattle's (dense) central neighborhoods, but if you get up to North Seattle or Shoreline I've seen a handful. You'll run across them every few miles out the (state route) highways.

      There's a list here:

      And, a 'motorcycle tour' here:

      I can't verify either of the above.

      Jul 23, 14 12:02 pm  · 

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Returning to the US after years of work and travel abroad, Evan Chakroff attempts to bring a global perspective to analysis of the relatively-unknown architectural traditions of his new home, Seattle, Washington.... and beyond....

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