The Denver Café Chronicles—The Weathervane Cafe

Mission: Every week I will visit a new café/coffee shop in Denver. I will write, blog, at each one. The article will have 2 segments. The first part, “the fact,”  will be my experience at the café, a review if you will, how I’m feeling, what I see, etc… The second part, “the fiction,” will consist of a fictional story that I come up with while at the café. I’ll be grabbing onto my surroundings, the vibes, and my feelings to inspire a short story.
the fact

I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised stepping into this quaint and quirky coffee shop. From the outside, it looks like a little house with big red umbrellas and a large sign with an urban font in white capital letters reading “Weathervane.” The windows seem to be dark and covered and it’s not easy to tell if there are people inside, let alone if they are open. The front door has one of those old door knobs that looks like it has a swooping nose that you press down to open. Music gushes through the crack of the door as I open it. I immediately am hit with warmth. The kind that you feel on your skin, and the kind that you feel in your belly. Feeling the warmth in my belly, I can’t help but smile as I look around at the small space.

IMG_1915 I set my bag down at a table in between two tables occupied by people happily chatting away. I go to take my wallet out when I notice the sign on the table that reads, “this table is reserved for dining and socializing. NO LAPTOPS.” Awkwardly, I stand there for several seconds, hand in my bag, reading this sign, deciding what to do since I came here to be on my laptop. I notice my awkward lingering next  to the people sitting down at the table next to me, so I take my hand out of my bag, set it down, head to the counter only to realize that I indeed did not grab my wallet, so I turn back around to again awkwardly fumble around in my bag. Walking back up to the counter, which is more like taking 3 steps, I look over the menu which has a plentiful amount of breakfast foods and sandwiches. Wondering if I should get something sweet or savory, I decide on a breakfast burrito, because, burrito. When I see a burrito on the menu in a café, it’s almost a reaction to order it. I get myself a cappuccino as well, my other go to order. Something I’ve noticed from visiting all these cafés is they always ask me if whole milk is ok, which I am more than fine with. Back in the midwest at the cafés I’d go to, the typical milk they use is 2% and they just assume that you will be fine with it.

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After ordering, I look around a bit, and notice that there’s a sign next to a staircase that says “more seating upstairs.” As soon as I read this, I head up the old wooden windy staircase. I almost trip as I reach the last step and pretty much fall into a room that is occupied with two people reading, and one person on a laptop. The room is oddly quiet, and everyone is now looking at me. I give a little smirk and catch my feet below me as I stop the momentum of my body. Once I refocus my eyes, I see that the room is nicely lit by the morning sun. The room has couches and a couple of quirky tables. The wood floors squeak as I walk on them. It is very noticeable since the room is deadly quiet. I try to make silent footsteps as I walk into another small room just off the main big one. I find myself in a small long light blue room with long tables along the wall. It’s obvious that this coffee shop used to be a house. “This is where I am going to write,” I think as I smile. Nobody is in this room, there’s more of a glow coming through the window, and the room has a soft quiet feeling. I hear my name being called downstairs. I turn around, hear the loud creak of the floor below me, and head back downstairs, carefully.

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My cappuccino comes up first, so I sit down at a table near the counter as I wait for my burrito. The music fills the space, and the people talking loudly next to me are not very noticeable. Great vibes. Like super great vibes. Everyone who walks through the door looks like they just got off their bike.

When my burrito comes up, I take it back to the table I was sitting at. I take a couple sips of my cappuccino as I enjoy the ambiance of the place before I head back upstairs. As soon as I step onto the staircase the sound of the café seems to sink into the wood floor and stay there. When I get upstairs, the quiet fills my ears, the music from downstairs is muffled, and now the conversations from downstairs echo and are more apparent. I put my stuff down in the blue room at a very small table that may have been an old sewing table. The burrito is so good, hot, with a deliciously spicy salsa that I scoop up with my burrito. As soon as it touches my mouth my stomach lets out a loud grumble. It’s a combination of my morning hunger, and the excitement to write in this space that leads me to finish the entire burrito in a matter of minutes.

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the fiction

Albert sits in his lab, his reading glasses sit at the tip of his nose as he reads his notes on his study. His notes on the blue-winged dragonfly, beautifully massive, cover the pages. There are scribbles off to the side, and the curves of his letters sway on the page like they’re dancing. Some scientists like to keep a digital record of their notes, but Albert prefers them this way. He lets his assistants make digital copies, but he never uses those for his own reference. When he’s not out collecting samples, Albert spends most of his time in his lab. His workspaces are tall old wooden tables. Framed insects hang on the walls in dark wooden frames. He labels each one with a number, and has a reference of that number in a large journal, corresponding to each insect he has collected. The journal lays on its own tall wooden stand, looking like a guest book you’d find at a bed and breakfast. The lab always smells like burning coffee, since there is always old burnt coffee in the coffee pot. Albert makes a whole pot early in the morning and leaves it on all day. He never finishes it. His assistants come and go every few hours. He sends them on assignments to observe the insects or environment that are part of the current study. They bring back their findings and he relates them with his own observations. He will only keep the insects that he collects himself, and any that his assistants bring back either go home with them or in the compost outside after they’ve been photographed.

Albert and his team are almost at the end of this study, so most of his time is spent going over all the notes taken, and re-writing all the conclusions made by the collective team. This part of the process has always been Albert’s favorite part. He likes the feeling of things coming to a full circle. His, now, ex-wife hated when his studies came to this point. Albert would spend very late nights at the lab. His work would take up all of his time and eventually all of his care.  She left him after 15 years. Albert didn’t mind this much. His routine didn’t change much other than the fact that he now was the one putting his lunches together, which he didn’t mind either.

Albert didn’t have much of a sense of humor, and when he did attempt at one, his assistants met him with a soft chuckle before quickly leaving the room. Albert always had a good laugh by himself once they left. He’d repeat the joke out loud, make eye contact with whatever insect lay in front of him, sprawled open with pins, and laugh with himself. He thought he was quite hilarious sometimes.

Each evening before he heads home, he has the same routine of shutting down his lab. He walks around and switches off all the lamps. He neatly piles his notes in order and sets up for the next day. He lays out the next day’s assignments for his assistants and writes a plan for them on top of their pile. He quietly looks over his specimens and leaves the lamp on above them. He finally turns off the coffee pot, dumps any left over in the sink, and places it back on the heater as it loudly grumbles. He sweeps over the room with eyes and picks up any loose materials. He is very neat, and tidiness is the feel of the lab. He takes his coat off the coatrack, swings it over his shoulder as he switches off the main light switch with his other hand. He locks the heavy front door and steps down to the sidewalk where his car is parked, right in front of the lab. His five-minute drive is always quick and quiet. When he gets home, he opens up his front door to the same stillness, the same quiet that he finds so pleasant in his lab.

Denver Café Chronicles—Joe Maxx Coffee Company

Mission: Every week I will visit a new café/coffee shop in Denver. The daunting part of this plan is that I intend to write, blog, at each one. My idea is to have 2 segments. The first part, “the fact,” of the blog will be my experience at the café, a review if you will, how I’m feeling, what I see, etc… The second part, “the fiction,” will consist of a fictional story that I come up with while at the café. I’ll be grabbing onto my surroundings, the vibes, and my feelings to inspire a short story.
the fact

The Santa Fe art district is looking fresh. Despite the dirty snow piled up on the side street parking spots, this Sunday morning is pretty, cold, and bright. Walking into the Joe Maxx Coffee Company I push onto the right side of the door, no budge. A quick sweat of panic sweeps over me as I think to myself, “dammit Emily, you didn’t check to make sure they are open today.” I pause for a moment then push onto the left side of the door and it sways open. I’m definitely one of those people who acknowledge my awkward moments, but alas, no one was around to hear my ramblings. It’s pretty empty in this coffee shop this morning, with the exception of a table of middle-aged women loudly talking amongst each other.

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Before I grab a drink, I head to the back of the shop to have a look around. It’s small, and the windows are shaded from the bright morning. The walls and floors are dark brown, and there are old rugs under each table. I choose a spot in the back corner on a couch that you would find at your friend’s grandparent’s house. I take off my coat and oversized blanket of a scarf and place them onto the couch. I go up to the front and take a moment to look over the menu. There are specialty coffee items on the menu like a White and Dirty, Spiked Lemonade, and an Affogato which is a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned with a fresh hot shot of espresso. So tempted to order this ice cream based drink, I decide it’s too early for dessert, so I order the Kolache Latte which is a hazelnut latte topped with honey, whipped cream, and pecans—perfectly on the brink of desert. I ask the barista if I said it right, to which another barista standing near him corrects my pronunciation. I also order a slice of pumpkin bread. When he hands it to me he says “this is a massive piece of pumpkin bread.”

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“Oh, awesome.” I excitedly reply. And it was in fact, a massive piece of moist pumpkin deliciousness piled onto a small glass white plate. While the milk for my Kolache Latte is being warmed and foamed, I look around at some of the funky art hanging on the brick walls. Music is being played, I’m assuming, from the plugged-in iPod laying on an old turntable. The barista calls out my coffee drink, and I go back up to retrieve my gooey looking over whipped cream drink in a to-go cup. Hurriedly, I head back to my spot and place my drink and pumpkin bread on the coffee table in front of the couch. I marvel for a moment at the toppings on my hazelnut latte. I’m also definitely the kind of person that has to eat all of the whipped cream off my drinks before I do anything else. I think it’s ridiculous letting it pathetically melt into your hot beverage without enjoying the creaminess of its intended state. 

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So, here I am, slurping up the honey-topped whipped cream, which is making my lips gooey and messy, and I couldn’t be happier. I lick my lips of the thick honey, and resume scooping the rest of the whipped cream off the top with the fork I’m using for my pumpkin bread. When I finally finish off all the good stuff my drink is down to half full. I dive into my bread and eat about half of it while I look around the shop noticing how every corner is being utilized for something—decoration or purpose. The corner directly in front of me to the left has a small old wooden TV table with one of those old black and white TVs that have two knobs for changing channels and an antenna. “Cool,” I think as I shove a giant piece of bread into my mouth. I don’t even mind that the bathrooms are across from me. The “all gender restrooms” are hip with art, white bath tiles, and uneven brick walls. I even stand up and walk over into one of them to check it out. “Cool,” I say out loud this time. The one thing I always remember when I check out a new restaurant or business—the bathrooms, if they’re worthy. I’m all about cool bathrooms.

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While I’m up I continue to walk around the small space of the back of the coffee shop. There’s an old piano with a bench covered in itchy looking fabric. Where sheets of music are meant to be, there are business cards placed along the ledge. I almost pick up one of a woman who connects to spirits, but then decide there are no spirits I need to reach out to, so I leave it for someone who really needs her services. I do, however, pick up a business card of a woman who claims to be able to “facilitate my self-healing” and also a card from the Colorado Ballet where their slogan on the bottom of the card is “Drink Beer, Dance, Conquer.” Smiling as I take my new finds back to my area, I sink down into the couch and pull out my laptop.

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the fiction

Billy laid his forearms on the sticky wood glazed bar of the dark dance hall. A Johnny Cash album played quietly from the turntable in the corner. Despite the warm bright morning, the hall was dark and cold. Before his first dance class, Billy liked to get to work early and have a bourbon at the bar. He’d been leading dance classes for 20 years, and just two years ago he bought this place from an old man whose wife had just passed. The old man was happy to hear Billy’s plans for the place. “Babe loved to dance. She would be happy to see this dump of a bar used for dancing.” Billy remembers the old man saying this, looking off into the distance for a good 30 seconds, and then handed Billy the keys saying, “Good luck, son.”

It took Billy three months to convert the old bar into a dance hall. He put in new wood flooring and painted the brick walls a deep red color. He put in a wall of mirrors across from the bar.  He left the old bar there, he liked it. Even though he couldn’t sell booze, he kept a stash of nice bourbon under the counter and would often drink either by himself or with some of his regular patrons after the late classes.

This morning was no different from any other morning. Billy offered morning classes every weekday starting at 10 AM. The people who attended the morning classes were mostly of the older crowd, and his favorite. They would come in loud, always laughing about some conversation they all had while walking together to the hall. Someone would bring in pastries or biscuits, and Billy supplied them with coffee. They would all sit around the bar and have a cup of coffee before they would start. They never got to the actual dancing until 10:30. He would pour the first cup of coffee as they were stepping into the door promptly at 10, and set down a new full cup at each seat of the bar. Each of them greeting him with either a loud “Billy!,” or a nod and a “mornin, Bill.” There was a good mix of men and women, most of them single. All were friends, and all met at Billy’s Hall.

For the morning classes, Billy changed up the dance every week. These people came here for the social aspect of the hall rather than the actual dance, so they didn’t mind the inconsistency of the dances. They actually seemed to enjoy learning new dances, laughing together as they misstepped. Today Billy was teaching swing dance, one that he’d done many times with this morning group.

This morning’s topic of conversation was about the new neighborhood community garden being built a block over. They were all talking about the plots they had already bought, and what they planned on planting in them. As each of them talked about the vegetable or flower they were planning on growing, everyone chimed in with what they would do with the plant—going on tangents on each topic.

“Oh, my grandkids LOVE watermelon, I’m going to grow that too!”

“Ooo I’ll bring in some homemade tomatillo salsa every week. Who likes spicy?”

“My father used to make the best fried green tomatoes…”

Almost in an uproar of volume, the group would excitedly chime in with responses.

Billy sat at the end of the bar, sitting on his stool behind the bar sipping on his black coffee. Smiling, he listened to each person’s response and offered his own comical spats. The sound of coffee cups hitting the heavy wood bar, the rusted stools swiveling, and the clammer of the group gave Billy’s Hall a character that he never expected but, now, oh so appreciated. Billy enjoyed what this group made this place out to be.

He looked down at his watch. “Alright, people, 10:30,” Billy spoke loudly over everyone. In almost a single sweep everyone was out of their chairs, coffee cups left on the bar.