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.

The Denver Café Chronicles—Carbon Café and Bar

Mission: Every weekend 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 facts,” 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 Facts

I’m in a part of town I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in, and walking to this new café I stop to take a picture of a cool looking bridge. Turning back around, a very close and bright bike light shines in my eyes. I gasp and jump out of the way, probably to an exaggeration, but I’m surprised by this oncoming bike and think I’m about to be hit by this bicycle man. It’s dark out now, so all I can see is the bright light from this bike swerving around me. I can’t tell if the guy saw me there and was planning on swerving past me like he did, or if he was just as surprised to come that close to a pedestrian standing in the middle of his path.

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Walking up to Carbon Café and Bar I am distracted by a large doughnut hanging above the door of the shop next door. I walk past the café and peer into the window of this alluring doughnut shop, with an even more alluring name, the Habit Doughnut Dispensary. I’m a big fan of pastries that are covered in glaze, so I keep this late night snack option in mind as I turn around and walk into Carbon Café and Bar. To my excitement, there is a connecting opening to the doughnut shop inside the café, how convenient.

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First impression. Impressed. Beat heavy house music welcomes me as I walk into the dark yet glowing room of the café. It’s a long room with tall brick walls and open HVAC. Clinking glasses and footsteps on the wood floor make me instantly feel at home. At the front counter I’m greeted by a beautiful display of doughnuts I’m assuming are from the shop next door. There’s a long bar with tall beer taps and cool bar stools. There are taller tables along the walls, and walking to the back I realize the room extends to the right with a long tall table surrounded by shorter booth style tables. There are lamps in the corners and the ambiance has a dark brown golden glow. There is another room straight to the back up several stairs. This room, brighter, has an entire white wall full of graffiti and the wall opposite of it is painted with chalkboard paint. There’s a giant “happy birthday Erin and Cody” surrounded by several tic tac toe games and other various things people have drawn. This room seems to be the “business room” as there are several people talking pretty loudly on their phones with laptops opened in front of them. I choose to turn back around and choose a seat in the darker room at the long tall table.

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I sit down and pull out my laptop. I’m greeting by a lovely woman who sets down a very full cup of water in a mason jar. “Here is the hydration,” she says. “Your server will be right with you.” I very much enjoy this greeting, smiling, I take a sip of my hydration. Looking around I see one wall is made up of these large old wooden barn doors with an arrangement of empty picture frames hanging on them. Everyone around me seems to be working on a computer with a beer or wine in front of them. Unfortunately, I am sitting next to a couple of slightly obnoxious guys who are talking loudly about a startup they are working on while complaining to the server about the high priced beers they realized they just drank. Having been a server for 7 years, I don’t have much tolerance for the types of remarks these men are making toward her. I almost laugh out loud when she replies to them with “well, I hope it was worth it,” and walks away. I’m glad to see them leave after a good 30 minutes of their spats full of loud startup lingo.  But, now that my table is free of the business talk, and I am able to enjoy more of the ambiance.

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It feels like there’s a lot going on in this place, and I like it. The decorations are pretty mismatched yet put together, and the vibes of the place change as you walk through the café. Every seat seems to offer something a little different, comfortable and trendy. This is definitely where the cool people come to do work.

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I notice I can hear a muffled voice of a woman speaking, almost like she’s right in my ear. I look around thinking maybe somebody is playing something on their computer behind me. Then I look at a table up in the “business room” and see the woman who is talking. She’s farther away and I ponder for a moment on why I can hear her so well, she’s not talking loudly, but I can hear almost every word. It reminds me of the room in the US Capitol building where John Quincy Adams would listen in on the discussions of his international guests from across the room due to a phenomenon caused by sound waves reverberating off of the ceiling. Thinking of this, I feel like I’m sitting in John Quincy Adams’ seat—I’m smiling as I write this.

I order a pasta dish recommended by my server. I’m sipping on a very good, very spiced chai. When I order it she asks me if whole milk is ok. I enthusiastically reply, “Oh, yes.”

Also, the goonies just started playing from a projector onto the brick wall directly in front of me. I very much like this place.

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The Fiction

The competition ended a couple hours ago and already Charlie’s muscles are starting to ache. He’s been snowboarding all day and came back to his room with a 3rd place trophy. Not ideal, as he thought he had a good chance of taking home 1st. Blake, his childhood friend and also his biggest competition won 1st. He felt a little peeved about this since he was the one who helped Blake become the boarder he is now. Charlie sunk into the leather sofa as the glow of the local news filled his room. There was a huge snow storm brewing and it was expected to shut down all roads until the morning. He wished he would have taken his parents up on their offer for dinner, but since he didn’t place 1st he wasn’t in the celebratory mood. He settled on a room service burger. His parents left town before the storm hit, and his only other friend in this competition was Blake, who he was in no mood to party with tonight. Embarrassed that he let a rookie boarder take 2nd from him in the last round, he knew Blake had some clever remarks to say about that. Charlie slowly lifted himself out of the deep imprint from the chair. His back ached from the fall that inevitably cost him 2nd place. He went over to the tall winders and opened the curtains. It was getting dark now, and the moon was rising just below the thick dark clouds above. It glowed through the darkening sky as the white snow glimmered. Thanks to his parents, he had a nice room with a walkout deck and a hot tub.

When room service came around, he ate his burger quickly and changed into his suit. The snow was already getting deep on the deck and his footprints sunk at least a foot. He opened up the hot tub with some force, steam quickly released and then floated above the tub. Charlie swung his legs into the burning water and his body coiled for a moment while he got used to the heat. He extended his legs and stretched his arms over his head. He cozied up in a corner of the tub facing the now darkness, the moon disappeared above the clouds. It was so dark now. The flakes were coming down big and chunky, falling quickly and melting as they hit the hot water. He liked the quiet sizzle and the stillness of the night. Relief is what he now felt. Relieved that his training was over, for now. He could relax and take it easy on the slopes. Charlie liked competing, but he also liked riding the mountain without the pressures to makes points. Sometimes he just wanted to glide. He closed his eyes, stretched his legs out farther so his toes were floating on the top poking out of the water. He always thought it was strange the way clear crisp air has such a distinct smell.

 

 

The girl with calloused feet

You don’t know her world, but how could you?

She sees different colors.

You don’t feel the tightrope that cuts through her feet and makes her feel strong.

She walks it alone. 

You don’t feel how her thoughts surround her.

She feels it all. 

Sometimes she doesn’t know if she’s falling, or if she’s dancing,

So she embraces both.