CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> Caffé Ladro

Back Buzz - November 21, 1997

pumping heart Caffé Ladro, 600 Queen Anne Avenue, Lower Queen Anne

This newly-opened spot is Caffé Ladro's second location, the first being up the hill on Upper Queen Anne. Although both cafes are on Queen Anne Avenue, there is an extremely different character to each location. Upper Queen Anne is trés trendy with lots of white yuppies and their families. (I'm not knocking Upper Queen Anne; there are some truly great restaurants and pubs up there. In fact, Max and I are convinced that Bob, the guy who comes up with the recipes at the Hilltop Ale House, is a god.) Lower Queen Anne, on the other hand, has much more of a downtown feel -- or uptown, I should say. In fact, it used to be called Uptown. It's close to Seattle Center and Belltown and is home to lots of young singles, old people, and truly cool people like me and Max. There's also more of an ethnic mixture, and a typically urban percentage of street people.

Although I've had occasional trouble recently at the upper Caffé Ladro getting them to serve my cappuccino in a cup instead of a glass, this lower Caffé Ladro seems to be well-stocked with proper cups. Here my double cappuccino came in a rather large but nicely white china cup with an impressively tiny spoon. The drink consisted of two perfect shots -- Caffé Vita beans -- capped by some truly beautiful milk foam. Since Caffé Vita is all the way over on the east end of Lower Queen Anne, this will probably become my regular espresso stop when I find myself in West Lower Queen Anne -- although it is a mere block and a half from Uptown Espresso, another excellent spot.

Cinema Espresso, which previous occupied this location, offered a great cozy atmosphere but terrible coffee. (I gave the place two tries: one when it first opened and a second time several years later. No improvement.) The Caffé Ladro people have taken out the carpeting, revealing a pleasant blonde wood floor, and the walls are painted caffeine orange with a white ceiling. The place is filled with little marble tables, wonderfully black chairs, some great painted-metal art on the walls, and these totally cool hanging lamps which appear to be some sort of organic life forms. Yes...I'm sure that one just moved, or at least oozed a bit. (Perhaps I've been watching too many X-Files reruns; I've learned to appreciate the beauty of oozing slime, squirting boils, and exploding organs, viewing them more as performance art than as pustular reality.)

From the window seats there's a fine view of a petroleum-polluted empty lot and what a few days ago was a condemned blob. For those readers unfamiliar with Seattle, I'm speaking of The Blob, a wonderfully bulbous and ridiculously curvaceous lump of building which used to look like Casper The Friendly Ghost's polar retreat until it was painted brown; more recently it looked like Casper's Santa Fe adobe retreat. The building, which received its tumid remodel in 1984, had been home to several restaurants and clubs until a couple of years ago when it was abandoned. This year, alas, it was condemned to the developers; and all efforts to save it resulted in nothing more than commissions, meetings, and legal documents with great names -- i.e. "Motion To Save The Blob." On Tuesday, November 18, 1997, The Blob -- Lower Queen Anne's most beloved kitsch emblem -- was torn down in full view of Caffé Ladro patrons. And progress marches on relentlessly.

Speaking of local landmarks, on a snowy or icy day this new location of Ladro's would be a great place to sit and watch cars slide down the Counterbalance, the section of Queen Anne Avenue which abruptly connects Lower Queen Anne to Upper Queen Anne -- or vice-versa -- at a grade of 18.5 percent. This section of street is so named because there used to be hill-climbing streetcars pulled up and down by counterbalances, sort of like the recently-restored Angel's Flight tramway on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles. Whereas the two Angel's Flight trains act as each other's counterbalances, I believe the Queen Anne counterbalance was an actual underground truck which pulled the above-ground streetcars up the hill as it moved down and vice-versa.

But enough of steep grades and alien-looking buildings; let's get back to Ladro's totally cool alien-looking light fixtures. What a unique experience to sip a cappuccino or a macchiato underneath what looks like an oozing life form. But an espresso is one thing; what would it feel like to eat a slice of pecan pie directly under something that looks like a magnified bacterium? Or could they be some sort of grossly-distended brain cells? What happens if one drops off and lands in my coffee? Will I get sick? I read recently that eating squirrel brains can cause Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease. I can't imagine why anybody would want to eat squirrel brains in the first place, but that's beside the point; are these lights actually some sort of brain material?

I've read a lot of articles recently about brains; not just any brains, but brains of the famous. In June of this year I recall a story about Ronnie Kray, a notorious London gangster of the 1960s. I'm not sure exactly when he died; but at the trial of his brother Charlie, it was revealed that police pathologists had secretly removed Ronnie's brain before he was buried, hoping to use it for an experiment. Three months later, when the Kray family learned about this, the brain was buried in a separate funeral.

I wonder how many mourners were at that second funeral, weeping and sobbing as the spongy-looking thing was lowered into the ground. Do they have special caskets for internal organs, I wonder? A kidney-shaped coffin, perhaps a heart-shaped box? What will finally happen to Albert Einstein's brain, now that most of it has traveled across the USA in the back of a Buick Skylark? (No, I'm not making this up; you can read about this fascinating February '97 road trip, with writer Michael Paterniti and retired pathologist Thomas Harvey, in the the book Driving Mr Albert.)

All this, of course, reminds me of an e-mail discussion earlier this year with my Bay Area friend about cellular matter and communication:

I just read an interesting short piece in the Seattle Times. It said that in London a Muslim schoolgirl sliced into a tomato and found a message from God spelled out in the tomato's veins. On one half it said, in Arabic, "There is only one God," and on the other half, "Mohammed is the messenger." The girl claimed that God made her buy that tomato.

With the late Mother Teresa appearing in cinnamon buns, Jesus making appearances in tortillas, and holy messages etched in produce, perhaps we should be more careful when we shop. These days we're savvy enough to read the labels on every bottle, can, or food container we buy. But do we stop to read our lettuce first? What about all those baguettes Max and I buy? It would be nice if you could choose what types of images and/or reading material you get in your groceries. If I cut open a cantaloupe which displayed next week's football scores, for instance, I probably wouldn't even notice. But an interesting article by Ralph Rugoff or a nice short story by T.C. Boyle, for instance, would definitely catch my eye. Why hasn't some enterprising French chef invented croissants which display next week's lottery numbers or winning horses?

Last week I opened a bottle of sarsaparilla. Inside the bottlecap was a message: "Try again for MOTORCYCLE"! But I've never read anything on the inside of fruit. Perhaps I don't eat enough fruit. Maybe this could be a way to get Americans to eat more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, if they could be genetically engineered to deliver messages of religious and financial import.

Maybe it's already true that the fractal patterns within every organic stem, root, fruit, and nut display a message on some scale in some language. Pomegranate seeds probably have messages coded in binary. If you spun them at the right speed (forward or backward) and read them with a laser beam, what would you hear? Probably something like "I bury Paul" or "Bob Dylan likes Billy Joel."

Suddenly I feel like slicing tomatoes and playing them on my turntable. Or what about a blood orange? Or a beet? What would a head of cabbage say if you sliced it in half? Something like, "AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!"? Or would it recite Edward Allen Poe? If you stuck a croissant into your CD player, would you be able to hear anything? Would it sing "La Vie En Beurre"? Or would it just muck up your stereo?

There may be a whole world out there of sights and sounds we've never explored...