About a million years ago I used to hang out in a place called "Cafe Nepenthes" a great little bohemian coffehouse/folkmusic/jazz/vegetarian restaurant in the old Larimer Square area of Denver, Colorado. The walls were a rotating art gallery. In addition to the booths and tables, it also had a small stage with musicians playing for tips. Like many places of those years, it has passed into legend.
Lots of young musicians were starting out in Denver at the time,and most of them played Nepenthes at one point or another. Many went on to be part of groups like the original New York Voices or to play sessions for jazz and cabaret greats or even to end up with their own recording careers like Jim Ridl or Jimmie Wright or my friend Tom Gruning who ended up with a musical career and a PhD. Once a week was poetry night with a series of wild and tame poets holding forth and the traditional wars of the egos battling with words and only the occasional menacing pistol.
The Cafe was a fine old down at the heels joint with the traditional veggie-hippie menu of smoothies, various iced teas (one called "Iced Spice" was my favorite -- it was an orange and cinnamon tea served with a wedge of fresh orange) and an assortment of pita bread sandwiches . I loved the "Chile Jack" sandwich -- jack cheese, green chiles, dijon mustard, onions and sprouts all hot, bubbly and toasty. The soup of the evening was whatever the cook of the evening decided to conjure up - miso millet, vegetable tomato, veggie pea soup, cream of carrot, tofu surprise....
The woman's room boasted some excellent graffiti - my favorite was a note tacked up next to the toilet paper holder that read "Wait Here!" and was signed "Godot". Some other woman had decided that a woman's most private parts of the anatomy should be called a "Jam Tart" and had written various suggestions about that.
But it wasn't the food or the iced tea or the frothy capuccinos or the graffiti that kept us all coming back. It was the sense of community. A bunch of us were regulars. We all knew the waitresses and their stories, and they knew ours. To this day, 25 years later I still remember Stan and Diane (the owners), and the waitresses Phyllis, Jan, Amy, Peg, Brenda, Jane -- and how grand it was to have a place to sit and write, to know that friends would be stopping by, where the music was good and where in Cheers-like fashion , "everyone knows your name".
Online venues seem to have taken over that role for many folks. And while I would be the last person to denigrate electronic community, as I have made many dear friends online -- I do miss places like the Cafe.
It was a zesty blend of art, drama, music, experiments, friendship, intrigue, and the best cuppa coffee in town.