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Back Buzz - August 29, 1997

pumping heartvalign=middle> Cry Baby Coffee Shop, 2020 Second Avenue, Belltown

I read recently that the Cry Baby Coffee Shop was named after the song "Cry Baby" -- the original Garnet Mimms version, as opposed to the Janis Joplin remake or the John Waters film with Johnny Depp. Regardless of its namesake, what Cry Baby conjures up in my mind is a sweaty pink screaming baby's face, which happens to be Cry Baby's logo. In fact, my ears hurt just looking at their logo.

I've been wanting to check out Cry Baby ever since it moved into the former Penny University space. Whereas Penny University possessed a warm cluttered atmosphere, the decor of Cry Baby is surprisingly austere in a '50s sort of way. There are two rooms: the less austere of the two features the espresso and food counter, a pile of magazines, and an inviting back table, and the more austere room features simple tables and chairs with stark empty walls. The floors are plain wood, the walls and ceiling are painted a '50s chartreuse yellow interspersed with a '50s strained-squash orange, the baseboards are a '50s royal blue, and the trim and tables are sort of a '50s kelly green. The front wall with its cool blue and green embedded swimming-pool lights is about the only feature which detracts from the form-follows-function school of coffee and lunch feel.

As I sat at a starkly silent table in the starkly silent room to drink my cappuccino, I caught a glimpse of the screaming baby's face on the menu. Why is it that all babies seem to have such ear-piercing shrieks? And I don't mean only when they're upset or scared; many times they're undoubtedly just exploring the vast range of sounds their voices can make. It's all part of the learning-how-to-communicate-through-words-and-blood-curdling-screams growing process. But still, why do they have to have such painful screams? Or perhaps more to the point, why do babies that have such painful screams always end up sitting behind me on a long flight?

All right, I admit I'm not much of a baby person; no motherly instincts here. But I do have a pretty good instinct for seeking out decent coffee. Not only does Cry Baby use Caffé Vita beans, which are among the best in town, but they make a truly fine, strong, enjoyable double cappuccino. I was amused by the cup itself: one of those standard '50s coffee shop coffee cups. It reminded me of a recent California road trip I took with my mother and brother down Highway 101 between Monterey and Los Angeles. We stopped for lunch in Paso Robles at Margie's Diner, a '50s -- or is it '60s? -- roadside diner featuring a graceful merging of the Dutch Windmill and the Wagon Wheel schools of coffee shop architecture. Margie's coffee was standard coffee shop fare, i.e. putridly weak -- the kind of stuff I could consume pots of as a teenager but which now makes my stomach acids churn. Actually, I suppose most coffee one could find in America in the '50s and '60s was pretty weak and pathetic, save for in those few bohemian enclaves like San Francisco's North Beach and New York's Greenwich Village.

Hmmm, I think I'm starting to understand the Cry Baby decor! It's a nostalgic effort to recreate that authentic coffee-shop feel. Ah, yes, I can almost remember back in the '50s and '60s, all those splendid Caffe Vita double cappuccinos of my youth. What, you protest? There was no Caffe Vita back in the '50s and '60s? Possibly, but only if you consider time to be an absolute. If, on the other hand, your concept of time is relative, then is time really passing, or is it just moving through space? Perhaps we're moving through time while time stands still. If we're moving in one direction and time is moving in another direction, and the universe is really made up of superstrings so that we're dealing with ten different dimensional sets of coordinates through which to move, who the hell knows what time it is or how old anybody really is? Or who's older or younger than who, for that matter? I mean, it's theoretically possible that I'm really my mother's mom, or that you the reader are in fact your own grandfather as well as everybody else's. So I could easily be drinking tomorrow's cappuccino in yesterday's coffee shop while thinking it's really today. I mean, why not?

Speaking of previous eras and John Waters films, I was happy to learn that theaters are still providing those scratch-and-sniff cards for the viewing of Waters' film Polyester. For anyone who hasn't seen the film, there are ten numbered scents on the card. Throughout the film, whenever a signal is given, you're supposed to scratch that scent and sniff it, creating a sort of Smell-O-Vision effect. The scents range from pepperoni pizza and air freshener to dirty socks and skunk. It's been years since I saw Polyester in a theater, and my scratch-and-sniff card is pretty much warn out. So I was happy to know I can obtain a new card if I want.

Now that I think of it, someone should really put a nice fresh unused Polyester scratch-and-sniff card into a time capsule. Wouldn't that be a great idea? Some alien civilization thousands of years from now, or perhaps just some Earth society hundreds of years from now, could find out just what a synthetic fart smelled like in the 20th century. What about an entire scratch-and-sniff time capsule? We could put all kinds of late 20th century smells on cards! The possibilities are endless: computer stores, mimeograph copies, pesto pizza, strawberry margaritas, clove cigarettes, fried chicken, buttermilk donuts, English Leather cologne, Safeguard soap, Lhasa apso turds, cat urine mixed with Tidy Cat kitty litter, cherry bathroom air freshener, dentist waiting rooms, high school locker rooms, brand new Barbie dolls, gasoline, new car interior, etc.

It could be a truly encyclopedic olfactory experience.