Call it the spread of sexpresso in America.
Just in case you missed it my pal Brian McQuarrie had an interesting little story in Monday’s Globe about a Maine entrepreneur who’s trying to open a topless coffee shop amid the reeling economy in a small rural town north of Augusta.
This has set off quite a stir in the region. But this is really only the most recent incarnation of a larger trend in which coffee joints are deploying the scantily-clad and pulchritudinous to stand apart from competitors and pump up profits. And one of the things that's most surprising about it is that it has nothing to do with the state of Florida, a veritable business incubator for semi-nude start-ups.
In Greater Seattle, the self-appointed mecca of coffee culture in America -- and home to the unfortunately ubiquitous Starbucks -- there has been a battle of bikinied baristas raging.
The area has seen the arrival of the likes of Cowgirls Espresso, a pioneer in the niche with 16 shops in Washington (photos at right and below), Java Girls (now with 14 locations in 11 states), and The Sweet Spot Cafe in the past couple years.
In neighboring Oregon come reports of Bikini Coffee Company (with three stores in the state and a half dozen others in various locales on the drawing board) and in Vegas, Sexxpresso (which does Starbucks’ Short, Tall, Grande and Vente system one better by offering cup sizes in A, B, and DD).
For the most part, these ventures have involved young women in bikinis or other fantasy costumes. Not topless. And while the introduction of all these businesses met with some initial raised eyebrows and the usual howling from the starboard side they’ve come to be accepted.
That is, except in the cases of a couple of shops that pushed the envelope by dispensing with the tops in favor of pasties -- think cover-ups as small as a few Susan B. Anthonys. One place in Belfair, Wash., was temporarily closed, and others retreated to more acceptably titillating attire under public and governmental pressure.
These places, however, differ somewhat from the Maine plans. They were, for the most part, drive-throughs. The shop in Vassalboro will be in a building, offer the option of half-dressed male servers, have blacked-out windows, and some security presumably to bar a younger, more hormonally-charged and less self-controlled clientele.
The good underlying news in all this is that as far as I can tell the coffee in all these places tends to be pretty good. Which would, of course, be the main reason I personally would go.