Yesterday, while perusing Craigslist, I came across an a "coffeeshop for sale" ad. This was a straight forward, turn key deal; walk in, hand the previous owners a mere $5,000 (!), hop behind the counter, pull a couple of shots, start a-steaming the milk and commence sneering at the customers when they ask for their soy chai. I'm in no position at this juncture in my life to attempt such an undertaking, but when I saw that the location was in Congress Park, I knew just where it was (this will be their 3rd owner in the last 2 years), so I had to go check it out.
Lo and behold, by the time I got there, there was already a quite obviously new, makeshift sign hanging above the door. The inside is spacious yet intimate, perfect for a neighborhood joint, and quite a lot could be done with it. Unfortunately, the hours posted out front say it all; the joint closes at 5 pm, meaning that this will be one more $8 sandwich shop with an espresso machine gathering dust alongside the cash register. I wish the best for the new owner, I really do. As someone who managed a coffeeshop in that neighborhood at one time, the best advice I can give is, no matter how much the misguided clientele tries to berate you into serving Southwestern Style Sprout Salad and organically grown, herbal-icious healing teas, what Congress Park REALLY needs is a decent coffeeshop. And I believe it can happen... look at the mustard yellow Diedrich's down the street; one drink of a latte prepared by one of their untrained, slave-wage earning baristas, and you'll know that location really IS everything.
All this has got me thinking about my all time favorite coffee shops, those proto-bohemian places that keep me dreaming of one day having my own joint. I love Denver, I really do. By all accounts, I am a townie. Any time an East-or-West Coaster takes issue with my beloved cowtown, I'm the first to stand up on the defensive. But lately, it's bugged me that I have to choose between atmosphere and a great cup of coffee. I want comfy couches and piles of dog eared books AND a golden crown of crema on top of my triple espresso so rich and creamy that I can use it to shave my head with.
1994; "grunge" was in; everyone had seen "Singles" and owned at least one flannel shirt. Like so many other alt-kids around the country, 2 of my compatriots and I "moved" ("visited", briefly, is more like it, but that's another story) to the promised land of Seattle, which at that point was both a noun AND an adjective (the Seattle Sound!/Scene!/Style!)The SECOND we crossed the Washington state line in my 1989 Ford Festiva, Pearl Jam came on the radio and rain fell from the overcast sky.
Hours later, when we pulled into the city, we looked for some landmark to orient us, a starting point, an event horizon like Lady Liberty must've been for our cold, tired and hungry. What we got was Bauhaus.
Bauhaus was then, and a quick Google search will show, now, as much of a Seattle destination as Pike's Place Market or Bruce Lee's grave, but somehow, it managed to maintain the feeling of a speakeasy; it was certainly our clubhouse, where we leafed furiously through The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly desperate for jobs and apartments. A staircase, alongside a honeycomb of books, led up into a loft, overlooking the entire city. If that wasn't enough, this best seat in the house was also the smoking area (which was HUGE for me back then) high enough above the main floor that the people below couldn't bitch.
The menu offered up coffee and all the standard espresso drinks, "Granita" (a pre-Frappucino coffee slush) and a selection of those little itty-bitty boxes of Kellogg breakfast cereals, and That's It. These guys knew what they were there for, they knew what they wanted their business to be, and you knew if you didn't like it, you could walk out the front door and step on a handful of Starbucks. In Seattle, it's law that a good barista can scowl at you with disdain if you tell them you think it would be nifty if they sold hot dogs/personal pan pizzas/greeting cards. And in Seattle, they are ALL good baristas. I myself, full of hope and dreams, kowtowed to the front counter, asking if they "needed any help".
"Nope. But if you have a resume..."
I heard a lot of that over the next 6 weeks that I was there. Sound excessive? When you hear people say Seattle has the best coffee, you'll know it's no mere hyperbole.
Bauhaus was the source of all my best memories in Seattle. I haven't been back in 11 years now, but I know I will go someday. If nothing else, when they spread my ashes there, while Jimmy Summerville's rendition of "Never Can Say Goodbye" blares in the background.
Unlike the many other Ted Campbells on the interwebs, I'm neither a minister, nor a professional motorcyclist, nor a gay realtor from Florida.
What I AM is an ass-kickin' father, a corporate schlep, and an occasional freelance writer.
If you've found your way here, why not give my awesome "Blog of Note" blog-novel a look-see?