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Back Buzz - April 23, 1999

The Library Cafe, 852 Northwest 85th Street, Ballard

Located in a rather unremarkable neighborhood in Ballard, this cafe is furnished with odds and ends of antique and retro furniture, racks of children's books, a children's play area in the back, and an odd mixture of wall art. When we stopped in at two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the place was packed with brunchers. I suppose you could call the Library a restaurant, because breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunches are served. And there's a "live music" sign, which leans more toward the idea of a coffeehouse. But then it closes, at least on Saturday, at the strange hour of 3:00 PM, which suggests an English country pub. So just what is this place -- library, restaurant, coffeehouse, or pub? And why in Ballard?

We sat at a little table in a brick alcove that looked like it might have once been a fireplace. The barista apologized for the large cup in which she served my double short cappuccino. But I didn't mind because it was a beautiful LaVazza cup, much like Illy and Caffé D'Arte cups, with delectable post-modern yet classic curves and elegantly placed handles; yes, these are truly gorgeous cups. My cappuccino was covered with big, billowy bulbs of foam, rounded like the cup, voluptuous and sensuous, like a foam carving by Auguste Rodin: excellently-rendered bulges, curves, and drapes, like a classic nude draped in a satin scarf. This is the first time I've received three-dimensional sculptured barista art rather than the usual two-dimensional rosetta patterns of the finer coffeehouses.

Unfortunately the shots, though strong enough and made with LaVazza beans, were a bit nasty-tasting. Was it due to old beans? An improperly maintained machine? The level of acridity indicated something was definitely not right. The visual experience was pleasing, though, if the taste was sadly lacking. But this is Ballard, after all -- the far northeastern corner of Ballard which borders Crown Hill and Greenwood along 85th Street, home of the large Fred Meyer, Gordito's Healthy Mexican Food (truly great spicy tofu tacos here, by the way), a store for psychopathic packrats called Squirrels Accumulate, the Christian-run Taproot Theatre, and presumably lots and lots and lots of Norwegians. So whaddya expect?

I suppose I shouldn't bash Ballard so hard; but everybody else does, so why should I be any different? And the fact that this is the very first coffeehouse (if you can call it that) I've managed to locate in Ballard says something about the culture. But there are lots of fine aspects of Ballard: affordability, a few great restaurants, a scattering of Irish pubs, and the fact that it's the brand new home of Archie McPhee, outfitters of modern culture. So yes, there you have it: Ballard in the eyes of an outsider. I suppose I have a lot to learn.

Speaking of what kind of place Ballard is, following is an e-mail exchange from a few months ago with my Bay Area friend about the concept of place:

I just learned the word utopia is Greek for "no place". Very did the first literary use of the word utopia refer to a place that doesn't currently exist rather than to a perfect place? Then what does dystopia really mean? This suggests all sorts of new words. First, a few relating to existing places:

...and then perhaps some new concepts:

Here are my entries:

...and as long as I'm on the subject of cities, here's an e-mail exchange from two years ago with a Los Angeles friend:

Last night we installed SimCity 2000 on our Mac. As I started to roast a red pepper for an omelet, I heard Max at the computer mumbling something about Las Vegas being on fire. I walked up behind him and saw Las Vegas bursting into flame, explosions everywhere. Max said he only wanted an earthquake and he couldn't figure out how to put out the fires. I quickly grabbed the mouse and surrounded as much of the fire as I could with firefighters, but it wasn't doing much good. I asked Max what the creature from outer space was doing there, and he said he grabbed it by mistake. He decided to try causing a flood, but it didn't seem to work either; that's when I suggested that perhaps the water lines were all damaged. So we watched the MGM Grand Hotel burn to the ground, and then we made dinner.

(I guess we'll both have to sit down and read the manual.)

Was Max trying to outdo real life events? My husband's daughter witnessed the MGM Grand Hotel going down in flames with her own 17-year-old eyes. Sounds like SimCity could be a party game. Extent, type and speed of damage/rescue in a set time period, with two or more teams.

Let me know if any of the aliens escape. And if they eat green sauces.