Popular Knight Library coffee house reopened and reimagined

Pour-over coffee station in Cafe Verso

For those looking to get caffeinated or grab a healthy-to-indulgent bite to eat, the freshest coffee house on the UO campus can still be found in an historic, familiar place.

Located on the ground floor of Knight Library in the same room that until recently housed The Daily Grind, the coffee shop has been refurbished and rebranded Café Verso to reflect the significant evolution of both its menu and its ambiance.

The changes were implemented with two goals in mind: improving the attractiveness and usability of the physical space and expanding the menu to provide patrons with a greater range of food and beverage choices.

Café Verso Hours
 Mon-Thr          8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
 Fri                     8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
 Sat                    CLOSED
 Sun                   12 noon - 10 p.m.

“We got a lot of input from UO Libraries on how students, faculty and staff use the space,” said Tom Driscoll, associate director of housing and director of food services, the unit responsible for administering Knight Library’s café along with four additional coffee spots around campus.

Most of the construction work took place over winter break, and the café reopened Jan. 22. Although the extent of the remodel was somewhat constrained by the nearly century-old engineering of the Knight Library building and its preservation on the National Registry of Historic Places, housing has created a more open and welcoming sense of space with a new, reoriented service counter, new furniture and a more open and flexible seating plan.

"Our approach to the project was to take advantage of the many windows the space offered to create a clean, well-lighted café that could accommodate a quick stop for coffee as well as an afternoon lingering over a pot of tea and a good book," Driscoll said.

Sunny seating area in Cafe Verso, Knight Library“The new thing I am probably most excited about is the pour-over coffee,” said Joshua Harris, food service manager with University Housing.

In addition to the carryover offerings of drip-brewed and espresso drinks, Café Verso customers can opt for a cup prepared in this artisanal method. Selected from a globe-spanning menu of organic, fair-trade coffees, the beans are ground fresh to order and then extracted with water poured by hand from a gooseneck kettle.

Customers have to wait a little longer after placing an order, Harris explained, but the result is coffee with a unique flavor profile that many people find more nuanced and pleasing than drip brew.

For tea lovers, Café Verso offers a selection of direct trade, loose-leaf teas that can be brewed in takeout sachets or, for those who want to settle in for a long café study session, take-to-your-table glass steeping pots.

“Our vendor, Young Mountain Tea, is a company in Springfield founded by recent UO graduates,” Harris said. “They do a direct trade business with farms in India and Nepal. We are happy to offer a product that supports our alumni, supports local business and supports small tea farms.”

He added, “Loose-leaf teas are a great value because they can be re-steeped up to three times, and the flavor is good and different with each steeping.”

New food options include bakery-fresh cakes and cookies; full-service bagel prep with whipped cream cheese and other premium toppings; an expanded selection of healthy grab-and-go snacks; and a soup of the day that is prepared on campus using fresh ingredients.

“Made-to-order food is something new for us,” Harris noted. “For example, a toasted bagel with fancy toppings is not something you can get at any of our other cafés on campus. We saw the opportunity to do it here because the remodel provided an expanded prep area, and I was pleasantly surprised by how excited our student staff was to begin offering these services.”

The shelves and cold cases at Café Verso will continue to offer many of the food and beverage choices that have long been popular with Daily Grind customers, including breakfast pastries, juice, yogurt, fresh fruit, burritos, salads and deli sandwiches.

Pastry case and tea selection at Cafe Verso

More than 400 suggestions were gathered by UO Libraries in a 2017 campus survey that explored renaming the space. Café Verso, the winning entry, was submitted by Caroline Phillips, then a graduate student in the College of Design.

“I was inspired in part by my advisor Dr. James Harper’s 2001 exhibition catalogue ‘Verso: the Flip Side of Master Drawings,’ which considered how artists used the verso, or backside of paper,” said Phillips, now the curatorial extern with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. “I thought Café Verso would be an appropriate name for the library café because it references the way in which the work of researchers and academics is often conducted behind the scenes, the backside so to speak, in coffee shops and libraries.”

Adriene Lim, dean of libraries and Philip H. Knight Chair, noted that verso has even more meanings in the language of libraries — it also refers to the left-hand page of a manuscript, or the reverse side of a book’s title page, where the publication information appears.

“Café Verso is a name with strong ties to library culture, and we’re hoping the name resonates with people who are looking for a bit of physical as well as intellectual nourishment that the library can offer,” Lim said. “I'm pleased that this project has refurbished a longtime service point in the Knight Library to better serve the needs of the university community today.” 

By Jason Stone, University Communications