Finding a cool and consistent coffee shop—with empty tables and Wi-Fi to spare—can feel like hitting the jackpot. So, as painful as it is to reveal my favorite cool and consistent study spot in the Chapel Hill area, the inevitable I told you so coming your way after your first visit seems like an adequate payoff.
During particularly tough weeks when I really need to get something done and have free time, the super quaint, super quiet Cup 22 tucked away in Saxapahaw, NC, comes to the rescue. A hop, skip and 30-minute drive from UNC’s campus gets you to the Haw River Ballroom in beautiful Saxapahaw, where the fantastic concert venue, known as Cup 22 during daylight hours, serves as a café from 7-5:30 p.m. Mon-Sat, and 8-5:00 p.m. Sunday.
Haw River Ballroom occupies the dye room in what once was an old cotton mill. Offering two levels of tables, chairs, and comfy sofas, along with an outdoor deck, Cup 22 provides customers plenty of space to spread out and make use of free Wi-Fi. The third and basement floor is outfitted with Ping-Pong tables should an impromptu table tennis competition suit your fancy.
Some getting-there tips: I prefer to drive through Carrboro via E Main Street to get to Highway 54, heading WEST (turn right) and continuing on 54-W for about 12 miles. Look out for a green Saxapahaw sign and turn left onto Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road. Continue for a little over 3 miles and you’ll spot Rivermill Village, the restored cotton mill on the left, which houses the Haw River Ballroom. Park either behind or beside the building if spots are available. If not, additional parking is available up and down Saxapahaw-Bethlehem road.
In my dozen or so odd trips to the coffee house I’ve never had trouble finding a table and quiet place to read/write/browse the Internet, though I have found that the cafe becomes significantly busier after lunch. The atmosphere is laid back, while the barista’s choice of music, usually indie-rock, plays softly in the background. Customers range from young to old, but usually college-aged and older individuals take root during the day. A few middle and high school students may wander in around midafternoon during the school year.
Slices of cake, quiche, along with a selection of cookies, croissants, bagels, and of course, donuts, litter the café’s counter, begging to be snatched up and enjoyed. Cup 22’s drink selection is just as promising as their baked goods menu, complete with quality coffee-house fares: espresso drinks, frappes, teas, and smoothies, which won’t set you back as much as their Starbucks brethren. Wine and beer is served in the evenings.
Though the coffee shop doesn’t appear particularly crowded after mid-morning, I always hope to arrive before all of the delicious and fresh baked goods (read: donuts) have been sold to the lucky early birds, but alas, never have. So, if you’re hoping to catch a quick bite for breakfast or a tasty treat, I would suggest arriving closer to opening hours.
After securing a cup of joe, I usually head to the upstairs loft and find a table close to the floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase a beautiful view of the Haw River. Here, I can remain undisturbed for hours…or until an empty cup/hunger pain begs for attention.
Move right around the corner and you’ll find Saxapahaw General Store whose slogan, “Your local five-star gas station,” isn’t far off base. SGS prides itself on serving quality meats, eggs, and produce from local Piedmont sources. Boasting a reasonably priced menu and daily specials, as well as a small grocery, SGS is a good stop for a quick bite for lunch. On one particularly memorable occasion, a friend and I stumbled in SGS after a grueling study sesh and ordered the daily special: a blue crab sandwich served with duck-fat seared potatoes. Needless to say we didn’t find ourselves studying much after such a rich meal, but it was delicious and unforgettable (unlike the 200 notecards we had been memorizing). Walk or crawl out of the store post-lunch where you may find a Maple View Ice Cream truck parked serving signature flavors. The Eddy Pub, also located in the Rivermill Village, serves brunch and dinner. Though I’ve yet to try it, the southern-comfort meets European bistro is next on my list!
It is difficult to come up with any flaws in the Cup 22 experience if you’re looking for a quiet, beautiful place to block the world out. However, considering electrical outlets aren’t plentiful, the coffeehouse seems better suited for book or paper work if you don’t come prepared with fully charged devices. The Wi-Fi connection can be shoddy, knocking you offline for brief periods of time as well. But perhaps Cup 22’s biggest handicap for Chapel Hill-Carrboro residents is the risk in studying so far from home. You won’t want to have drive all the way to Saxapahaw only to realize a textbook, computer charger, or wallet didn’t make it with you.
Though I’ve yet to visit Cup 22 on a summer weekend, the Saxapahaw Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday May-August 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with live music after 6, which should significantly affect the busyness of the café. So, although the lack of late night hours makes heading out to Cup 22 a stretch if you don’t have more than half a day to spare, who knows? Maybe your study session will carry over into Saturday’s in Saxapahaw, happy hour or a show as Cup 22 transitions into nighttime operation.
You can follow Cup 22 on their Facebook page where you’ll find occasional posts from the team. Haw River Ballroom’s page is underdeveloped in comparison, but the venue’s website and Twitter account are considerably active and up-to-date, posting photos and updating information on shows and Saxapahaw-related events almost daily. Check out the website’s calendar for current and upcoming happenings. A link for scheduling private events is also available on their website. Follow @HRBallroom on Twitter for a chance to interact with the space and to check out retweeted pictures from followers. Though not as updated as their Twitter account, also following @hawriverballroom on Instagram allows for a chance to see video and pictures from venue events and from around Saxapahaw.
Interesting to note is HRB’s attention to posting information not only about their business as a café, concert house, and meeting place, but also in promoting the town of Saxapahaw and the many activities and experiences it has to offer. HRB is a focal point in the community for sharing a space in the Rivermill Village along with other restaurants, stores, and apartments, and for being a part of and hosting numerous events in Saxapahaw. For its efforts, Haw River Ballroom is a major factor and is very successful in drawing people in and promoting tourism and the economy of historic Saxapahaw. Though already a 5/5 in my book, HRB/Cup 22’s dedication to community absolutely contributes to my willingness to travel and support a cool, local business. When in Saxapahaw you might want to check out some of the other local businesses. Here are a few review resource: