A guide to living local in Southern New Hampshire

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Third Place

Flight Coffee Co. at Cruising Altitude in Downtown Dover

By JL Stevens / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

This is a regular feature about the “third place” – the concept that society needs a place that isn’t just home (first place) or work (second place), but also a spot to gather – the local watering hole in ancient times and in more contemporary times, the café, a park, the gym, if you will. In this column, Fiddlehead will profile some of the best third places in the Merrimack Valley.

The sandwich board outside Flight Coffee Co. of Dover encourages passersby to “Drink Coffee – Take Over the World.”

That sums up the vibe at this Dover establishment, which serves as much a community hangout as a place to grab a great latte.

On a recent weekday afternoon, the café with its Edison lights, salvaged wood and brick interior was buzzing, and not just because of the caffeine. People gathered to work, read, play board games, schmooze and nosh.

According to Kelly Bower, who co-owns the café with his wife, Kristy, community is key at Flight.

“We’ve decided to evolve into … what the community wants and needs the cafe to be,” he says. “That comes through listening, watching, learning, and being inclusive – not pushing an agenda.”

That evolution is epitomized by the community board outside the restrooms – a mishmash of kayak adventures, grown-up playdates at the nearby Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, dog walks for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society, the best yard sales and bands seeking singer/rhythm guitarists.

Music is a big part of Flight’s role as a community gathering space. It features live, local music played by and for all ages. Flight also showcases the work of local artists with one-month revolving exhibits. And Bower has installed a chalkboard he hopes will inspire transient sketches from customers as well as Flight employees who he says are “very artistic themselves.”

It even serves as home to bibliophiles. Last year, Baldface Books made its new home in the café. Clyde Allen has owned the business for 25 years and was happy to have landed at Flight, even if it meant downsizing a bit.

“I thought about it. Maybe the new model is to have a smaller place, you don’t have to walk in and have 50,000 books anymore, just have a 1,000 or so really good selections,” he says. He sells used and remaindered books as well as some records and CDs.

The wall behind his counter is lined with the titles he says are “kind of cool,” including books by Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac. “The kids love that stuff, so they’ll go right to that shelf. There’s no sense hiding it down in the stacks.”

The “lit” literature goes perfectly with the lattes and Americanos at the café where baristas not only conjure up coffee concoctions but select the music as well. On this day it was purely Indie on the sound system.

But, of course, what The Garrison City’s hipsters, students and escaped office workers come to chat over, is the coffee. Americano, cortado, macchiato, cappuccino and lattes to name a few. There is also a pour-over bar with offerings from Rwanda, Columbia and microlot (gem parcels of coffee from a specific spot on a coffee farm) selections.

Café manager Dan Demers is recognized on the Seacoast for his award-winning latte prowess. He knows his way around a macchiato mug and elevates coffee to an art form using froth as his medium, creating intricate designs like delicate rosettes, which float like suspended art.

Bower calls Dan a gift.

“He’s a pillar of the regional third-wave coffee movement (the production of high-quality coffee, considered artisanal foodstuff, like wine),” he says. “Flight gives him the opportunity to engage a larger community in exciting ways, in addition to his own amazing café (D² Java in Exeter).”

But while many try, it’s hard to live on caffeine alone. Flight has that covered with a wide selection of sandwiches, including bagel sandwiches named after Bower family members like the Jackson – egg, sausage, tomato cheddar, chipotle mayo – and the Ava Meltdown – egg, turkey, avocado, and cheddar. Plus, fresh soups daily like butternut squash and tomato basil as well as power bowls.

For Brett Carneiro, a digital marketer from Dover, the café is a big part of his work life. On a recent day he was sitting at a much-sought-after window seat – headphones on, laptop plugged in.

“I got here early, that was key,” he says of the good seat. “I like that I can set up shop because I don’t have a home office.” He says he appreciates the coffee and the staff who never makes him “feel rushed.”

Or as one happy customer says on Facebook: “Hippest place… Super friendly staff and best beans on the Seacoast.”