Friday, March 02, 2007


One of my first addictions was caffeine and is the only one I have retained. As a very young teen, the Last Exit to Brooklyn known as "The Exit" to everybody proved to be my training ground in the world of espresso. This funky throw back from 60s provided a hang out for a amazingly eclectic clientele. I was fortunate enough to get too experience The Exit in both my early teens and my twenties. But this wonderful piece of Seattle history is a different story then I want to tell right now.

Local coffee shops have been a destination for entertainment and socializing. Starbucks and its imitators has always been too mainstream and commercial for my taste. I very much prefer the look and feel of the independently owned coffeehouses. While I have been to many of them over the past twenty-three years, two special ones hold a cupful of warm thoughts. Two of my favorite coffee shops contain rich atmosphere, diverse patrons and a variety of entertainment.
Both of my favored establishments cultivate a certain ambiance. Only the second coffee shop I ever patronized was Tony’s Italian Cafe in Cleveland Ohio; Tony’s Italian Cafe was a mix of old world charm and late seventies punk culture. I felt comfortable from the moment I walked in to the place and gazed at the wallpaper imported from Italy upon which hung the works of local artist. The tables filled the small cafe were made of rod iron as were the chairs. Pastel over stuffed pillows and chair backs made the seats comfortable. Besides the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the smells of hearty Mediterranean cuisine permeated the air. My current den of caffeine delight is right here in Duluth and called Beaner’s Central. The differences between Tony’s and the layout of Beaner’s are obvious; Beaner’s is all modern and very lively. The music plays continually as Cd's provide subtle background during the day and musicians perform from the stage at night. There is a warm comfortable feeling created by the light purple walls and soft lighting. In the front, a mixture of overstuffed couches and comfortable booths invite groups to visit and hang out. In the center of the coffee house, small tables accommodate the business people and couples. The smell of fresh baked pastries and cookies over the lush smell of roasted coffee beans fill the air.
I really like to watch and listen to a diverse group of people. Tony’s Cafe had an interesting mix of clientele, which included people from the neighborhood, younger people who were involved in the local punk culture and a handful of fledgling artist and musicians. I spent many an afternoon sipping a quad cappuccino and listening to the musical Italian accents of the retired men who lived in that neighborhood. Their hand gestures seemed to be as important as their words when they were making a point or telling a story. One interesting senior citizen sat every afternoon with a newspaper and a demitasse cup of black espresso in front of him. After reading a section of the paper, he would down the pungent coffee then motion for a refill. He then continued on to the next section of the paper, his routine never seemed to alter or did I ever tire of witnessing it. Beaner’s customers are a mix of business people, college students, musicians and artist, tourist and of course, espresso fanatics like me. The first time I visited Beaner’s was several years ago, while on a holiday excursion with my late wife. We ended up meeting and becoming good friends with a musician .Our second visit was a on a trip to hear our new friend and her group perform at the coffee shop.
Often I go to a coffee shop to be stimulated by entertainment as well as caffeine. Beaner’s is a haven for local talented musicians who meet to network and share artistic insights. Performers also gather to catch the shows of musicians like themselves, who come from all over the United States. The owner of Beaner’s plays with two different local bands and has furnished the coffee house with a first rate sound system as well as several experienced sound technicians to run the sound board for shows. The stage is professional with a great lighting scheme. Visual art is also incorporated, starting with a colorful and large mural directly behind the stage. Every month a different regional artist displays their work on the walls and sculpture or pottery artists often have offerings placed on small tables around the cafe. Whereas Tony’s stage was really just a corner where they had cleared a few tables away from, it prompted many to perform. The art that graced the walls was always changing as new works were exchanged and occasionally sold .Thinking back to those days I think the real entertainment was watching the interaction of the Italian culture with the rising Punk culture. While there were many clashes I think each group respected the others desire to as the Sinatra song states “Do my way”.
The two coffee shops could be viewed by some as different as night and day; I see many similarities. This is actually based upon the human experience, as what I think I enjoy are the many memories of events, gatherings and personal discoveries. In the end, cherished the most; are the memories of individuals who were friends, confidants and lovers. They come to mind with every whoosh of steam from an espresso machine, many who have vanished just like the steam. Coffee shops are commonplace these days but the establishments that last have the quality to create memorable events.

1 comment:

MischaMowse said...

Here here! Three cheers for the local coffee joint!

M