The Denver Café Chronicles—Federal Coffee

Mission: Every week I visit a new café/coffee shop in Denver, and write an article that has 2 segments. The first part, “the fact,”  is my experience at the café, a review if you will, how I’m feeling, what I see, etc… The second part, “the fiction,” consists of a fictional story that I come up with while at the café. I grab onto my surroundings, the vibes, and my feelings to inspire the short story.
IMG_2477
the fact

IMG_2475This coffee shop has tall ceilings, and possibly the coolest coffee bar I’ve seen yet. There’s a tall skinny green tree of a plant in the corner giving the whole coffee shop life. A small round succulent sits in the middle of each table, and I sit down on the long leather booth that runs along an entire wall. A massive old circular mirror hangs above the coffee bar, and a single art piece sits next to it on the counter. It’s a painting on metal. I look around and notice the bare brick walls, and realize that is the only piece of art in this shop—besides a naked lady painting in the back hallway of the bar. I overhear another customer ask if they’re setting up for an art show. 

IMG_2514.jpg

I then notice the metal wires hanging down the wall behind me, intended to hang art. The barista says they are actually getting ready to hang up new art, probably tonight. She points over to the metal painting down the bar and says he’s the artist they are going to be showcasing. This makes me wish I came here tomorrow so I could see the shop in its prime with badass metal paintings covering the walls.

IMG_2506

I am getting a retro vibe in here. It’s partially the spacey, almost 80’s themed modern music, and it’s partially the feel that the old massive wooden mirror gives the place. You know when something just feels spooky or haunted? Well, it feels like this mirror has seen things, and been around sitting high in places for a very long time. I can’t help but get some Stanley hotel vibes from it. It has stories to tell, and now it sits here, absorbing and reflecting the energy of the shop. I dig it. Sitting in the booth, it’s nice and warm. I can hear the heat pumping through the space on this cool morning. While the shop is small, its tall 18-foot ceilings give it a large feel.

IMG_2480

There’s no menu anywhere I see. Only a small sign advertising the coffee beans being sold by the bag. I order a dry cappuccino, and damn it’s good. I’m tempted to get a freshly made doughnut, but I decide that the banana pancakes I just ate at home were enough for this morning. As I type this, I am second guessing my decision. The wood floors look like the may be the original flooring, the skinny kind you see in old houses with wooden archways in the hallways. Each person that walks in this morning seems to be a regular here. That is always a good sign of a good coffee shop, especially in the vast coffee scene of Denver. Its only fault, and a big one at that, is that whatever music streaming station they are using has commercials. Very unfortunate.

IMG_2517IMG_2519

 

————————————————

the fiction

Kimberly sways with the music. She begins to lose herself under the music and the gin and tonics she’s been drinking all night. She throws her hands in the air and moves her body back and forth, slightly bumping into the people dancing next to her. It’s like an ocean in here. Everyone’s body is in sync with the music and the vibe of the club, and they’re all riding the waves together. Kimberly loves coming here. Its chill vibes easily suck her into the dance floor and she finds she is able to dance the night away, by herself.

She never brings her friends here. She likes that this is her place, a place she feels comfortable enough to let herself sway with strangers all night. The stresses of her week get swept out from under her feet and she is carried solely by the groovy music playing above. Her friends wouldn’t like this place anyway. There’s no annoying bumping club music, and no one taking selfies with their friends on the booths around the dance floor.

This is not a place people come to party. People do come here to drink, sure. But its more on a mature chill with the help of fancy garnished drinks from the bar. It’s a place people come to dance. The kind of dancing where you run your fingers up through your hair and groove your arms up over your head as you sway your hips back and forth. Swaying just isn’t enough for some people. Some people need the noise. Some people need the scene to consist of girls snap chatting their friend getting down on the dance floor with people taking shots on shots of liquor in the background. Some people need chaos to escape. Sometimes Kim enjoys that scene, but most Friday nights she ends up here. 

Kimberly’s a vampire artist. Meaning, she only is an artist at night. By day, she’s a social worker handling troubled cases. She loves the work she does, but it takes a toll on her. More than she thought it would. She always considered herself strong and capable of handling a lot, but the kind of social work she does is another level. Every day leaves her emotionally drained and exhausted. Her art is what shakes her awake. She’ll stay up all night even on days she has to work early in the morning. Her art is important to her, and without it, she thinks she would crumble.

Kimberly has been dancing for a solid half hour without getting another drink. A slow groove of a song ends and she feels her whole body take a deep breath. She briefly takes a moment to close her eyes and feel the sensations of her body. The cool sweat at the nape of her neck, the hardwood floor beneath her feet, the smell of coffee from a table nearby, and taste of gin still on her tongue. She opens her eyes and propels herself forward off the dance floor. She floats to the bar to close her bill. She sits on the soft bar stool, her long skirt wavering just off the floor. She kicks her feet back and forth slowly. Her chin sits atop her hand as she looks out at the dance floor and across the bar. A crooked soft smile stains her face, and her lips feel full and soaked in gin. The bartender, a handsome tall man wearing a bowtie and jeans hands her card over with a wink.

“Next time, Kim.”

“See ya, Mac.”

She smiles and slides off the stool. Still floating, she moves inside the crowd and makes her way to the front door. As she opens it, the coolness of the night sweeps across her face and fills her nose with the smell of wet asphalt. She pauses for a moment before she takes her next steps. She can feel her eyelids, heavily blink over her eyes. She walks a couple business down to a New York style pizza place and orders herself a large pepperoni slice. She takes her pizza on a flimsy paper plate and sits down on the curb in front of the pizza place. She watches people move in the streets, cars slowly passing by, and she watches the stop light to her left change colors several times. When she finishes off her crust, she licks her fingers of the parmesan and grease. She stands herself up, throws away her plate, and points herself in the direction of her home which is just down a block. It is lightly drizzling as she walks slowly, still floating, down the sidewalk under tall swaying green trees. 

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.

IMG_1273.JPG.JPG

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.”

IMG_1286.JPG

“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. 

IMG_1279.JPG.JPG

IMG_1290.JPG

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.

IMG_1305.JPGIMG_1295.JPG

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.

———————————-

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.