Dark Roast Mugs

I often try to get mugged while traveling.

The Pfister Hotel (2017)

They may look grey, but they’re really matte silver. I say that because my wife and I picked these up at the Milwaukee hotel where we spent a getaway weekend to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

The luxury Pfister Hotel is in Milwaukee’s East Town section, and we ventured out into the nearby Historic Third Ward and Westown neighborhoods, as well. While we were waiting for our brunch table at Café Benelux, groups of red-clad bicyclists — participants from that day’s Santa Cycle Rampage — were seen across the street. Soon some of them would be one table away from us in the restaurant.

This was the first time we’d been away from our high-schoolers for as long as we were, and we greatly enjoyed the hotel and the city. Before heading home, we headed north along Lake Michigan to stop by North Point Lighthouse, snap a couple pictures and enjoy a stroll.

Twenty-five years. It’s a good start.


B. Kliban®Cats (1980s or 1990s?)

It reminds me of a long-ago t-shirt of mine. The shirt’s waistline area was completely encircled by these round-eyed cats.

I can’t say for sure when the B. Kliban cat thing started for me. And I cannot say with any certainty where this mug came from or when I got it. But I know that when I was young, I was given a number of B. Kliban cat t-shirts — the red sneakers and triCAThalon are a couple that come to mind — by my brother and his wife, a gifting tradition that may have started when they were dating. I say that last part because I think I was wearing the shirts at least as early as middle school, and they got married the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Those t-shirts also introduced me to the Crazy Shirts brand, which became even more personal when my wife and I picked up honeymoon t-shirts at one of their stores in Hawaii, and when I ordered sweatshirts for our first anniversary. (Though neither the honeymoon tees nor the sweatshirts were cat-themed.)

And just for good measure, there’s a B. Kliban cat jigsaw puzzle in the closet even now.

Door County, Wisconsin (2009)

If Maine represents my favorite area in the country, then Door County in Wisconsin is my favorite part of the Midwest. The pointy thumb that divides Green Bay from the rest of Lake Michigan has hundreds of miles of shoreline, five state parks and a whole bunch of lighthouses.

My wife and I made our first trip together there in 1998. Ten years later, we returned with our children and began what could be termed our traditional family vacation. Thus far, we’ve visited in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, always camping in Peninsula State Park in one of the Nicolet Bay campground loops, and always on a site that has access to the water. Our stays have ranged from three nights to a week. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, where I picked up this mug during our 2009 visit, is in the park.

Cell service is spotty in Door County, and that’s one of the things I love about it. This is where I try to unplug and have no agenda or schedule, goals which have grown more challenging with growing children of a connected, digital generation.

Our family’s must-visit places, in addition to the aforementioned Peninsula State Park, include Fred & Fuzzy’s, where shoreline dining comes with an incredible sunset, and Wild Tomato Pizza, where a wood-fired oven cooks gourmet pie to perfection. (Okay, we don’t exactly rough it. During our last trip, we chose a coffee shop theme and all enjoyed sipping java or a smoothie while we played cards — in five different venues.)

At this point, I’m not sure when we’ll get back, or if it’ll be more than just the two of us who make the trip, but I do look forward to it.

Christmas #5 (1990s or 2000s)

A table gift from my parents on a Christmas day after my wife and I were married.

This is part of a boxed set of four mugs, all the same size and shape but with differing Christmas-themed illustrations. That’s a wreath peeking out from the inside, a nice little extra that’s visible to users drinking right-handed.

Two of the set’s mugs have a red stripe on the outside of the handle; two have green. Over a two-year span, my wife and I received the whole set — each year one of us receiving one with a green-striped handle, the other getting red. (Wish I could remember the years.) Makes me smile to think of how my folks had their table gifts planned out at least a year in advance.

Christmas #4 (2014)

A teacher gift for my wife, but she shares with me.

Does it seem somehow dishonest to show a snowman hovering just above hot coffee?

Pro Football Hall of Fame (2013)

One of the stops on our family’s Great American Road Trip of 2013 was Canton, Ohio. I grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and many of the players I idolized as a kid are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame there.

Think for a minute that year after year, one measure of an NFL team’s greatness is the number of Pro Bowl players on its roster. Then realize what it says about the Steelers of the 1970s that there are nine players and the head coach from that team in the Hall of Fame.

So it should go without saying that when I was choosing a souvenir mug, I had to pick one that was black and gold. This came with a gold, ceramic spoon that slips into those holes in the handle. It’s not broken, but it’s also not something a drinker of black coffee ever needs to use.

Christmas #3 (1990s)

My parents kept a tradition of giving table favors to their Christmas guests. Each place at the table had a gift, usually wrapped in tissue paper. While all the gifts over the years were thoughtful and nice, the ones that my wife and I still use the most are the coffee mugs.

This was part of a set that included various designs, and as a brass player, I’m quite fond of it. Note the shaped handle. Looks neat but it makes holding the mug a bit of a challenge.

Hilo Hattie (1992)

We discovered on our honeymoon in Hawaii that many businesses targeting tourists like us printed ads for discounted goods and services. And Hilo Hattie, a store with multiple locations across the islands, drew us in with an offer of free coffee mugs.

Yes, we got t-shirts and other merchandise during the store visit — they made their money — but the souvenirs that remain are these free mugs.

The Al Bryan Mug (early 1980s)

It was a gift from my brother or sister, probably at Christmas while I was still in high school and they were out of college. If I recall correctly, they used the same occasion to present our parents with a pair of purple mugs that had round bowls — and legs with sneakers.

I’ve always liked this mug, but have found drinking from it to be a little disconcerting because the face on it bears an uncanny resemblance to Rev. Al Bryan, an associate pastor at our church when I was in high school. (If you’re out there, Al, I still remember you fondly. Thank you for investing in my friends and me during a challenging season of your own life.)

San Antonio (2005)

It was the 10th anniversary trip that happened almost two and a half years late.

Our daughter was just under six months old, our son just over three years, when we marked our 10th anniversary in 2002, so we decided to hold off on taking a celebration getaway. Then a few months later, in 2003, my employer filed for bankruptcy, and I subsequently learned during the reorganization that I would only have my job for five more months. We already were scheduled to take a trip to my sister’s place in Denver to celebrate my father turning 75, so the 10th anniversary trip shifted further and further down on our priority list.

Well, I started a new job at the end of 2004, and in spring of 2005 my wife’s parents asked if they could spend their spring break with both of our kids, at the time five-and-a-half and almost three.

The answer was (somewhat reluctantly) yes. But what would the two of us do without the kids that week?

We’d finally take that anniversary trip, and we settled on San Antonio’s Riverwalk area. We stayed at La Mansion del Rio, right on the Riverwalk. Loved it. We had no car, so we walked or took public transit almost everywhere we wanted to go. We didn’t follow our usual m.o., instead eating out for all meals rather than picking up some groceries to save money. And we knew the kids were in good hands with Grandma and Grandpa. Wonderful trip, and well worth the wait.

Ensenada, Mexico (2006)

As a gift to my parents to celebrate their 50th anniversary, my brother, sister and I (and spouses and four of the six grandchildren) took them on a cruise that went from Los Angeles to San Diego, to Catalina Island, to Ensenada, Mexico, then back to L.A.

At the Ensenada stop, while many on the cruise were taking part in various shore excursions, my family of four wandered the port town with the giant Mexico flag. People were hawking jewelry and other items on the sidewalk, and we popped into a few storefronts. Among the things that caught our attention were, of course, coffee mugs. “ENSENADA” was written near the top of each of these, to the left of the handle, but the word had apparently been added there with a Sharpie, because it disappeared after a few washings.

These mugs were nice for my wife and me in that the pair were distinct from each other — the woman is holding a child’s hand and being a responsible, loving parent; the man appears to be taking a siesta. My own interpretation of the resting man is a bit different — he’s not lazy and avoiding work, but rather he has completed a long, hard day of laboring to support his family, and this mug captures a moment after this has happened, when he is ever so briefly resting his head.

New York City (2011)

New York wasn’t new to me — I was born upstate and spent my early life there — but it took me decades to ever make it to New York City. As part of an RR Donnelley creative team based outside Chicago, I traveled to Manhattan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where my coworkers and I began the work of building the 2011 MetKids catalog.

On the day we flew to New York, my alarm sounded at 3:15 a.m. I got up and drove to pick up my Creative Director, then got the Account Manager, and we headed to O’Hare, where we met another coworker. Flew to LaGuardia, took a cab to the Met Museum, had our meeting and got a tour. The team wandered a little of Central Park before determining that we didn’t have time for dinner prior to needing to head to the airport for our return flight. We ate at the airport and learned our flight was delayed by storms. Then delayed some more. And then some more.

And it was while waiting out those delays that I spotted this mug and felt compelled to get it. (Note: after several uses and washings, the print started to run, so I don’t use it for drinking anymore.)

We finally departed four hours late. After taking off and getting back to Chicago, I dropped off my coworkers, got home and climbed into bed — at 3:15 a.m.

Maine Antique Digest (late 1990s)

In another post, I acknowledged my obsession with the state of Maine. My ownership of this mug was born out of that obsession.

The internet was still catching on in the late ’90s, and I was using lunch time at work to walk, eat, and look up Maine-y things on the web. I came across Maine Antique Digest’s site and discovered that they had come up with a giveaway to encourage site traffic. Find their whatchamacallit on one of their pages, tell them where you found it and be entered in a monthly drawing for a mug.

I did. I won.

I still smile and shake my head when I look at the URL printed on the mug, because it’s the entire URL, right down to the final slash. Like I said, the internet was still catching on.

Pittsburgh Pirates (circa 2000)

I’ve been a Pirates fan since my family moved to Pittsburgh when I was 10. I used to go to sleep listening to games on a transistor radio I had placed under my pillow. (Thank goodness for the Free Battery Club at Radio Shack.) My high school marching band was on the turf at Three Rivers Stadium before some games, trying to perform a football halftime show with no yard markers and then playing the national anthem. And if you asked me right now, I could still name most of the roster of the 1979 World Series champions.

As many fans recall, the Bucs went through what could politely be called a long dry spell. After losing to the stinkin’ Braves in the National League Championship Series in 1992, the team didn’t have a winning season until 2013. For many years, this mug would optimistically be pulled out of the cabinet or drawer when spring training rolled around in February, only to be retired for the year in July or August as the team had their annual free fall in the standings.

Knott’s Berry Farm (1978, or maybe 1989)

My grandmother lived in California my entire life until she passed away in 1991, and my brother had moved to southern California in 1978. That was the same year that Knott’s Berry Farm opened a ride called Montezuma’s Revenge. We went to the park, but the ride scared me and I didn’t go on it. (My big brother was braver than me.) I do remember, however, taking pride in riding the Corkscrew, which also went upside-down.

Did I get this mug in 1978? Maybe, but I’m not positive. How many 12-year-olds intentionally collect coffee cups before they start drinking coffee? I may — may — have gone back to Knott’s in 1989 when I spent a couple months in the area working on a project for my brother.

Mt. Rushmore (2010)


You know what I really like about this mug? There’s a picture of Mt. Rushmore on the inside. As I drink my coffee, more and more is revealed, and it makes me feel like a superhero.

“Remember that time when the Black Hills were flooded with coffee?”

“Sure do! I’m so glad Coffeeman showed up just in time and drank it all!”

“He saved Mt. Rushmore!”

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Mt. Rushmore was on our list of places we wanted to take the kids while they were still kids. We got as far as Sioux Falls on day one, then we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell the next day before continuing west. We were going to grab McDonald’s on the way out of Mitchell, but the western way back onto I-90 didn’t have one. Neither did the next exit. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the… We ended up going all the way to Chamberlain, into the town, a couple blocks from the Missouri River to find one. And we later drove into a very intense thunderstorm as we neared Custer State Park, where we camped for a few days.

The latter part of the trip included driving through the Badlands, stopping by Wall Drug (yes, we got a bumper sticker), visiting multiple Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and spending time with family in Minneapolis.

Kennywood Park (2013)


Just southwest of Pittsburgh, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, is my favorite amusement park. Kennywood used to bill itself as “Around the corner and out of this world.” Every year when I was in high school, our marching band spent a day here at the end of our camp week — friends and I would sing the commercial on the bus as we traveled there, rattling off the names of many of the rides as we did (to the annoyance of probably more than a few people). Then we were turned loose in the park, regathered for a parade, and turned loose again. I went back to the park on other occasions, also. Among the rides are some great wooden coasters, including the teeth-rattling Thunderbolt. And Racer is unique in that it’s a racing coaster with one continuous track — you leave on one side of the station and come back on the other.

So it was a huge treat for me to head back there with my wife and kids when we were on our Great American Road Trip, 2013 edition. We spent four nights in my beloved Pittsburgh, also touring downtown on foot, getting Primanti Brothers food in the Strip, seeing the Bucs at PNC, going up Mt. Washington on the Mon Incline… And I made the family experience the awesomeness of emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel as downtown explodes into view. (Yes, of course they were impressed.)

Christmas #2 (1990s)


It was a gift from my brother and his wife. At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it came into our possession. It looks handpainted (and if it was, it wasn’t done by them). There’s another mug here with a different color and design, but with the exact same shape, and seemingly made of the same lighter-weight material, and with the same company name in raised letters on the bottom. Curiously, the two mugs have different countries of manufacture.

As I get ready to post this, we’ve just had a friend make a repair to the ornament tree we repurposed as a Christmas mug tree, so this cup once again has a prominent place of display this season.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas #1 (1990s… maybe)


I don’t remember exactly where this one came from. I may have co-opted it from the many gifts my wife has received over her years as a preschool teacher. It may have come with a packet of cocoa mix or a fake poinsettia, or both. What I do know is that I’m a sucker for classic church-in-small-town scenes, especially when the setting is winter. Add in the horse-drawn carriage and I want to paint myself into the picture.

It’s not quite Currier and Ives, but it’s close enough for me. This mug lives in a drawer at work for eleven months a year, but every December it helps make my Christmas season brighter.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2001)


I remember getting out of the car to take a picture at an overlook which I assume was somewhere along Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The billowing clouds among the mountain ridges were striking. Then, quite quickly, those clouds became thicker and unified, filling my view with gray. I was starting to feel a mist as I turned back toward the car, where my wife and 20-month-old son were waiting. Soon I found myself sprinting because I was in a full-fledged downpour and getting soaked. It happened that quickly.

We had recently visited my mother- and father-in-law as they attended a convention in Tampa. Then my crew was staying at the Jellystone Park in Cherokee, North Carolina, with a Pack ’n Play in the tent, during a visit to the Smokies on the way home. From a distance, Yogi Bear (a costumed Jellystone employee) was my son’s greatest yearning, but up close Yogi was absolutely terrifying.

North Coast Brewing Co. (1999)


Mendocino is a picturesque town on the northern California coast. My brother and his family had a tradition of renting a home there between Christmas and New Year’s, and in 1999, we — my wife, infant son and I — had the pleasure of joining them. One of the must-visit places while there was North Coast Brewing Co., located just up the coast in Fort Bragg.

North Coast Brewing Co. holds — for me — the somewhat unusual distinction of being a place from which I had a souvenir before ever visiting. You see, my brother and his wife had given me a Red Seal Ale t-shirt from the place years earlier. We simply had to go — so I could order a Red Seal Ale and close the circle, as it were. And it was upon our actual visit that I picked up this mug, suitable for brews both cold and hot.

Snook Inn (2011)


At the north end of Marco Island, a small bit of land in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s southwest coast, is a restaurant called Snook Inn. If you’ve got a boat, you can park it at the dock and step ashore for a table. But we always drove or walked there when we went. And there’s indoor seating, but why would you use that when you can enjoy outdoor dining right by the water?

My in-laws invited us to join them many a winter as they snowbirded in Marco. We took them up on the invitation a handful of times, and I think we made our way to Snook Inn every visit. The first couple trips, there was an overturned boat that seemed to just exist in the middle of the channel nearby, a discovery (or rediscovery) that always led to conversaton. About the food: It didn’t take long until I found it almost impossible to not order the grouper sandwich. And the chowder is pretty incredible, too.

Maine (1996)


I had a moment of déjà vu in Acadia National Park when my wife and I were there on vacation in 1996. One of the trails had an incredible familiarity to it. I knew my family had traveled there long ago, but I had always assumed it was before I was born. I asked my parents about it later and, nope, I had actually been there with them when I was a very young child.

There was so much to love about Maine: The rocky coastline. Acadia. Portland and Old Port. Hadlock Field. Gritty McDuff’s. Portland Head Light. Nubble Light. Route 1. Freeport and L.L. Bean. West Quoddy Head Light at the easternmost point in the United States. Camden. The list could go on and on. And on. And I know we barely even scratched the surface on a trip that was too short and limited to the coastal area.

I had a business trip there in 2004. Again, too short.

Baseball Hall of Fame (2013)


One of the stops on my family’s 2013 roadtrip vacation was the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. It was my second visit there, the first having been years earlier on a Thanksgiving weekend while I was in college. My aunt, uncle and cousin had lived within a couple hours at the time, and my cousin and I took the opportunity to make a day trip out of it. This time around, however, it was an early July visit with my wife and kids. I’ll tell anybody that the few hours we allowed for the Hall (we also visited friends and family in the area that day) seemed woefully insufficient. I’d like to go back someday, but — for now — I’ll settle for my fond memories of a family road trip when I pull this mug out of the cabinet and pour.

Disneyland (2006)


Their choice surprised me. As my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary approached, my brother, sister and I wanted to do something special for them. Our parents had met, gotten married and started their family in upstate New York. Being the sentimental type, I thought it would be wonderful to offer them a trip back to where it all began — and from which they had moved more than 30 years prior. After much sibling discussion, we offered them three options for an expenses-paid trip with their children and the children’s families: 1) a trip to the Lake George area in New York, where my family and relatives enjoyed times together when I was too young to now recall; 2) a trip to Crystal Beach on Lake Erie, a short distance into Canada from Buffalo, and a place where relatives had owned a beach home and we had gathered many times with extended family; and 3) a cruise from Los Angeles to San Diego, Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. They chose the cruise, and it surprised me.

My wife and I decided to extend the California trip and take our kids to Legoland and, of course, Disneyland. This mug came with a one-pot pack of Mickey’s Disney Blend coffee, which tasted horribly stale. Loved the label, though, which looked just like the design on this mug.

Niagara Falls (1993)

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In July 1993, after attending two weddings one week and about a thousand miles apart, my wife and I routed ourselves through Niagara Falls on our way home. We had dinner at the Table Rock restaurant on the Canadian side, where I followed the counsel of one of my college professors and tried to appear Canadian by ordering a Labatt instead of a Molson. Even if the restaurant staff was fooled, the gift shop workers downstairs were undoubtedly on to me when I picked up this mug. We went back there 20 years later — with our kids this time — and, not surprisingly, they no longer stocked my old souvenir.

Los Angeles (1980s)


I’ve been an easterner or midwesterner virtually all my life, but I’ve also always had family in California. My father grew up near Los Angeles and my grandmother lived in California until she passed away. Before that event, my brother had moved into the area. I bought this mug at the Pantry in L.A. sometime in the ’80s when I was visiting my brother and his family. Note the “We Never Close” tagline. Sometime after I was there, I understand that they did indeed have to close the restaurant, if only briefly, because a health inspector told them to. Must be true because I saw it on Wikipedia.

My Day Job


Needed a way to pay for coffee beans (and housing, food, gas, etc.), so I’m a copywriter in real life. Here’s my portfolio.

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