By Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno, Dashielle Horn, and Emily Shreve
Emily: First-year graduate students have a lot of reading, writing, and grading to do, often in an unfamiliar town away from the usual haunts, and, often, with a tight budget, restricting your options. Over time you’ll discover the best working locations for you, but to speed that process along, Dashielle, Sarah, and I have some suggestions for wonderful (cheap!) places to work and eat in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.
Coffee Shops & Places to Grade and Read
Dashielle: On Campus! Whether you gather a group of folks to work together or prefer to be by yourself, lots of places on campus offer decent study nooks. Your office, of course, is an option, but I always found my third floor office isolating and a bit depressing, with the tiny windows and likelihood of lead paint flaking into my tea. The common room is a good bet, though sometimes it gets a bit too social to be productive. I do find, though, that the common room during 4-7 seminars is the perfect environment for studying; other people are being studious nearby, which is motivational, but it’s quiet! Some people (myself included) prefer the Writing Center, because it has a tempting combination of table space, sofas, and chocolate. Linderman is also a lovely workspace, though it can be a bit crowded with undergrads. I think the best places to work in Linderman are the desks scattered throughout the stacks–they’re not quite as crowded as Lucy’s or the rotunda. There are also inviting workspaces in STEPS, with the added bonus of amazing views. Again, these are scattered about, but mostly on the north and south ends of the building. And, in nice weather, don’t forget about Drown’s balcony or the Adirondacks on the lawn!
Sarah: The Joint. Nestled away in the Sun Inn Courtyard off of Main Street on the north side of Bethlehem, The Joint has a cool, community-oriented, somewhat counter-cultural vibe. It’s sort of like if punk rock was a coffee shop/deli. Pros: They are very conscientious about where they source and how they prepare their ingredients, offering a wider range of specialty drinks. They also have a community board area where they post local events/businesses. Cons: It’s a somewhat small business, which can be hard to find if you don’t follow the signs in the Sun Inn Courtyard. However, since it is off campus and somewhat difficult to locate, it’s a good place to go if you are trying to focus on getting work done, without potentially being interrupted by people you may know, which often happens at Lucy’s (on campus) or Saxby’s.
Emily: The Wise Bean is another wonderful little local coffee shop, tucked away in North Bethlehem (not too far from the intersection of New and Broad). There aren’t too many seats, but the coffee and baked goods are delicious. It’s worth an occasional trip.
Sarah: Barnes and Noble. The mainstay of my MA career, I often read or graded at the Barnes and Noble at the Promenade Shops in Center Valley. However, due to its proximity to the mall and the movie theater, the food court area is often busy, so I’ve learned to go to the one in Easton if I want to secure my own table. Pros: If you need to take a break, you can stroll around and browse the book selection while you re-collect your thoughts. Cons: Aside from the limited number of seats and sockets, the menu items can sometimes be a bit pricey, so I tend to eat either before or after I go, and purchase a beverage while I am there; that way, I can still patronage the business, while not breaking the bank.
Emily: As cliche and chain-y as they are, I would strongly recommend Barnes and Noble and Starbucks as well. They are reliable and often have later hours than the local coffee shops. Plus, there are just so many locations! Finding the many different Starbucks and B&Ns is a wonderful way to get to know the area, and it provides some much needed variety. [Dashielle: I second both B&N and Starbucks as recommendations. One additional note: sometimes it’s hard to get a seat by an outlet at these places, so plan to charge your laptop ahead of time.]
Sarah: Your Friend’s House! This seems like a simple suggestion, but it took me a while to figure out that my favorite way to get work done in a different environment was actually to go to a friend’s house for a scheduled reading/grading evening. Pros: You hold one another accountable for getting your work done and you can talk through your ideas or questions together. You can also cost-share by preparing or sharing snacks at home, which tends to be a lot cheaper than eating out. Cons: If you are not good about managing your time (or, in my case, my mouth), then these work sessions can quickly devolve into simply hanging out and talking with your friend, which is also great, but not necessarily productive in terms of getting your work done if you’re on a tight schedule.
Emily: When I was in coursework, my closest friend and I would often work together off-campus in the evening in order to keep each other motivated to push through readings or grading. We found it very effective to move to a few different places, either after a certain amount of time or as a way to mark turning to a new project. You are managing so many tasks in the beginning you can feel scattered, and, though it seems paradoxical, scattering ourselves physically helped us grasp the differences in our work. Grade 5 papers at Saxby’s, then head to Barnes and Noble to do some reading for your modernism class. Read for Victorian literature at the Wise Bean, take a break for a quick meal, and then head to Starbucks to begin your reading for your medieval seminar. The drives and breaks give you time to chat and rest, and it helps you keep plot points and tasks distinct. (Granted, it’s not the cheapest option, but if you stick to plain coffee you can make it work!)
Dashielle: General note: any coffee shop can be made economical if you get in the habit of ordering tea. It’s cheap and most places offer refills, so infinity tea! (This may be the same for coffee? I don’t drink coffee, so I really don’t know…)
Cheap Places to Eat
Dashielle: U&Tea has some delicious but cheap options, and very generous portions. My favorite menu item, the Spicy Noodle Soup, is $7.95 and I reliably leave with a full quart of leftovers. As a bonus, it has every vegetable imaginable. Or at least, most of the usual vegetables plus several you’ve likely never tried (Lotus roots! Bamboo!) Warning: when the menu says spicy, it’s not kidding. Don’t hesitate to ask for mild seasoning if you have sensitive taste buds!
Emily: This is a bit further afield and looks a little disreputable, but the Prince Palace Dumpling House is delicious, and you can get quite a bit of food for $15 or less. Their scallion pancakes are amazing.
Dashielle: La Lupita is an excellent choice with some economical options. I prefer the black bean soup ($5!), but nothing on their menu exceeds $15. It’s also very vegetarian friendly, and my favorite Mexican restaurant in the valley.
Emily: In addition, the Lehigh Valley is chock full of diners that offer substantial meals for very little cost (my favorites include the Hellertown Diner and the Golden Gate Diner). Just like the B&N or Starbucks, exploring these various diners allows you to get to know the area. Plus, it’s very enjoyable to sit and read over a diner coffee and some french toast. [Dashielle: I’m also a big fan of Alexandria’s on 4th Street. Bonus points for ambiance with murals of Greek gods on the walls. If you’re looking for waffles, though, go to the Bethlehem Diner– most other LV diners don’t even own waffle irons :(:(:( ]
If you know of any other great places to read and study or have favorite cheap eats, let us know in the comments! We hope you try one of these great options this weekend and wish you happy studying!