Coffee and beer always seem to go together. From coffee stouts to coffee Mexican lager to coffee porters to coffee in the morning when you're hungover.
A more recent trend is beer in coffee shops. In the area it seems that Barriques was kind of the pioneer here - starting with wine bars downtown and on Monroe Street. Bradbury's downtown now also sells beer, Firefly in Oregon sells beer, and Starbucks is experimenting with selling beer at their coffee shops.
[ed note: some disclosure is required here - I've worked with Barriques and Firefly and MBR's Beer Talk Today is associated with Bradbury's. Coincidence? well, since we love coffee and beer, it can't really be that surprising that we choose to work places that offer both, no?]
[addition: Indie Coffee on Regent here in Madison also sells beer now, I think. Other coffee shops in Wisconsin? Folks in Milwaukee?]
The Seattle Times questions whether it makes sense to sell beer at coffee shops: "it's really hard to understand there's a coffee shop that turns into a wine and beer bar at night." I don't know why this is so hard to get. People go to a coffee shop to sit and drink while chatting with friends, chatting with co-workers or family, getting some work done, studying. Why can't these things be done with beer as well as coffee? Plus, in a coffee shop, typically a place with comfortable chairs and good lighting, you don't have the loud music, dim lighting and standing-room-only discomfort. Coffee shops offer a ambiance that you simply don't get at many bars. While I may not take a chess board or book to Maduro (although I have been known to take my laptop there), I don't hesitate to do these things at Barriques.
Plus, coffee shops are seeing tough times. Coffee is a premium/luxury good that is entirely dependent on disposable income. It makes sense for coffee shops to differentiate their product lines. Wine and beer are both good fits - most coffee shops also sell small plates which pair well with wines and beer, the baristas know how to sell premium products, and the coffee shop is already a place with a good, comfortable reputation in the community. Coffee shops already have a lot of the infrastructure in-place to sell beer such as coolers and moderate temperatures and dry environments.
So, I guess when I saw the article from the Seattle Times titled Should Coffee Shops Sell Wine and Beer? My reaction was "Why shouldn't they?"