Most people have seen Café Pamplona in their travels across campus; they’ve rushed past it on their way to Berryline, Adams house, or Lamont. That is to say, when students mention Pamplona, it’s often as the place they’ve always meant to visit, but really never had the time for, because running to Dunkin’ Donuts is quick and easy. Too often in college, we think that all coffee is created equal; sure, there is a noticeable difference between the brown water of the dining halls, which cooks and cooks again until bitter, and the so-called “lifeblood” that we purchase from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts each morning and call “real coffee.” When we don’t drink coffee, we often opt for tea (if not for the taste, then for the sophistication that comes with drinking “a cup of tea,” while extending one’s pinky finger in the air). In effect, they’re all the same, beverages that allow us to get through our days and pretend that we’re not exhausted zombies. I believe that when getting that caffeine fix is such an integral part of one’s life, the mundane cups of Joe should be punctuated with truly memorable experiences. You won’t find donuts or air pots of old java at Café Pamplona, but you’ll find some of the best coffee and tea in Harvard Square. Beverages are not served in Styrofoam cups with lids that never stay open, but in ceramic mugs and cast iron teapots, accompanied by tiny spoons resting on proportionally tiny plates. Café Pamplona is truly a throwback to the coffee shops of Pamplona, Spain, for which the establishment is named. In true European fashion, an espresso is small and strong and a cappuccino is smooth and creamy. If you’re not looking for a cup of energy in your visit to the establishment, don’t be deterred. They also offer fruit sodas, caffeine free teas, hot apple cider, and other beverages. And if you’re hungry, Pamplona is a fantastic alternative to any Harvard dining hall. Goat cheese and arugula sandwiches, mini pumpkin pies, soups, cakes, and tarts are sure to remind those who are fed up with standard college fare that eating should be a delicious, satisfying, and rewarding adventure. And from one vegetarian to all others on campus, I promise that Pamplona’s menu is a dream come true; no more shall we resign ourselves to salads and veggie burgers.
Delicious food and beverages aside, Café Pamplona is a hotspot for a host of other reasons, the most important being that it’s a café of all seasons. Most cafés and coffee shops provide two or three tables for outdoor sipping and dining, but if it is a nice day, chances are slim of catching a table unattended. Pamplona, however, provides ample outdoor seating so that more than just a few of their patrons can enjoy the weather along with their cold soda or other iced beverage. When pleasant breezes turn into gales and the mild temperatures take a turn for the frigid, head inside and sit at a table while sipping a hot chocolate or a latte.
What makes Pamplona really special is that it’s underground. That’s right, it’s located in the basement of 12 Bow Street, and for someone like myself who loves nothing more than feeling cozy, this is the perfect hidey hole. Low ceilings, yellow walls, and a black and white checked floor make Pamplona seem like a comfy cave; add the whirring of an espresso maker and the scent of grinding coffee beans and you’ll crave the feeling of a warm ceramic mug in your hands.
Café Pamplona is best experienced if you’re willing to spend a bit of time sitting, sipping and people watching. Known around town for its authenticity in a world of commercial chains, Pamplona is a favorite for all sorts of interesting people. Stay for more than a minute and you’ll be sure to hear more than one language spoken, see a few eclectic outfits, and remember that Harvard Square is home to some very cool people; Pamplona is intriguing, quirky, and fun. So for your next study break, don’t walk to your house’s dining hall. Explore the eccentricities of Cambridge without even leaving the Square.