Food » Food Feature

A lot to love about Intrepid Life Coffee & Spirits



If you thought downtown Durham could not sustain another coffee shop, you're either not a java drinker or you've not been to Intrepid Life Coffee & Spirits.

(That said, Starbucks, don't even think about it.)

Intrepid offers the usual coffee drinks with beans roasted by Joe Van Gogh—Americanos, lattes, espressos, cappuccinos and, for traditionalists, put hair on your chest with hardcore black, hold the cream—plus hot chocolate, tea, craft beer and red and white wine. Yet, what draws you in and keeps you there is the atmosphere, the hours (it's open until 2 a.m.) and the mindset behind the café.

Mornings, Intrepid is home to a coffee and pastry crowd—the delectable sweets are walked over from Loaf Bakery across the street—but by late afternoon, many patrons have switched to wine or beer, the glasses and bottles illuminated by the 6 o'clock sun streaming through the long front windows.

Lunch includes a choice of three sandwiches, all $6.50, including a vegan wrap (spinach, tomatoes, jalapeños, carrots, pickles, garbanzo beans and vinaigrette).

The windows are optimal for people watching, although if you're looking for privacy (after all, who is really in the zoo?), head to a cozy back table. The high ceilings give the space an airy feel, suitable for an aviary where birds could roost. The ample space is perfect for working—or co-working, if you choose one of the long, communal tables. The comfy couches and chairs also are ideal for losing a couple of hours in a book. (Sun? Space? Furniture? Ah, to be a cat in this place.)

While not as buzzing as Cocoa Cinnamon, which offers a different but equally pleasant vibe, I can appreciate Intrepid's low-key atmosphere, especially on days when I'm not feeling chatty. Except for the stereo playing softly overhead, it can be quiet in here, owing to the crowd's propensity to don their earbuds and withdraw into their digital worlds on their computers and phones.

So now that you're sold on the atmosphere, the other admirable aspect of Intrepid is its ownership: Marine Matt Victoriano, who served two tours as sniper team leader in Iraq.

After returning to the U.S., he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and, like many veterans, found it difficult to get a job or start a business.

Finally, Intrepid opened (I peered in the windows for months wondering when it would) in January 2014.

I don't know Victoriano's politics, and it's really not important, but there are hints that Intrepid was not decorated by a neocon hawk. While a large American flag hangs from the wall above the counter, and Marine insignia is mounted near the door, across the room is a black-and-white photograph taken in 2004 in Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg. A man in a wheelchair holds a sign reading "I believe Bush is a terrorist."

Well, that makes two of us.

Intrepid also supports hiring veterans and advocates for progressive nonprofits such as the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, El Centro Hispano, the Battle Buddy Foundation and the Service Women's Action Network.

You can also become a member of Intrepid, ranging from $20 for a Compassion level to $50 for Intrepid, all of which come with discounts. (Coffee for Veterans donations start at $5.)

In a state where there is such a large military presence—eight bases, including Ft. Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson—it's important to support veterans. At Intrepid, you can enjoy a good drink in the sunshine at the same time.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Fearless and caffeinated."

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