CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> Perkengruven Cafe

Back Buzz - April 9, 1999

pumping heartPerkengruven Cafe, 4736 University Way Northeast, University District, Seattle, Washington

You'd expect a coffeehouse with a name like Perkengrüven to be an exciting or, at the very least, an interesting place. Or perhaps you'd expect it to have the curves, styling, and chutzpah of a Volkswagen beetle, classic or new. Or maybe it should be an olio of a meeting place for perky freshmen, ümlaut-sporting hëadbängers, and groovin' young hippies; or perhaps simply a hangout for Swiss yodelers, all decked out in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats, sipping their mochas while admiring the cafe's extensive collection of cuckoo clocks.

In reality Perkengrüven is none of these things. It's a very plain little coffeehouse with plain little wooden tables occupied by a fairly ordinary-looking assemblage of university students. Aside from two paintings near the cash register there was no art in the place on the Sunday afternoon Max and I stopped in. In fact, the walls were grotesquely blank; hopefully the cafe was between art showings. It was, however, full of University of Washington students, all studying, writing reports, and sipping slowly on huge lattes. We were fortunate enough to get the window table, the coziest spot in the stark room. We sat and watched the sun come out over The Ave shortly after an intensely heavy hailstorm had taken everyone by surprise, filling the street in seconds with a river of hailstones and driving all the Sunday strollers and idlers to cover.

My double short cappuccino was served in a nice round white cup, a bit on the large size but not overdone. The shots were fairly strong and were finished with a beautiful cloud of foam. Since Perkengrüven uses Caffé Vita beans, it really was quite a decent cappuccino. I can't say anything bad about it at all.

But the audible and visual boredom was getting to me. There's not really much to look at here, except for the interesting mesh and glass light fixture suspended over our table. Actually there are interesting handmade light fixtures over each table, and the floor is of the beaten-up variety, similar to that of the McGraw Street Bakery on Queen Anne. But the place is still very, very plain -- suitable, perhaps, for an undistracted session of studying economics or the history of Italian Renaissance furniture or Korean art or molecular biology or basket weaving. Or perhaps one could write an essay on existentialism in modern life, or ace a homework assignment for The Meaninglessness of All Existence 101.

That's the feeling I get from Perkengrüven: nothing. Mind you, it's a pleasant sort of nothingness. But once you leave the place nothing visual stays with you. It does make one wonder if the place even really exists.

Which reminds me I've never printed the follow-up e-mails to a three-way discussion 2 years ago between me, my bay area friend Mistah Rick, and my Seattle friend Adam. (See my Still Life in Fremont review for that first discussion.) We were attempting to prove to Adam that Mistah Rick does indeed exist. In the interest of nothingness, following is the continuation of that discussion:

Thought you'd be interested in the latest thread of Adam's Proof of Mistah Rick's Existence:

******** Forwarded message ********
DATE: 5/6/97 10:11 AM

Hey, Adam! How goes it? Did you get the e-mail I asked MistahRick to forward to you?

DATE: 5/8/97 12:16 PM

I did get a note from MistahRick and I asked my pal Johnny Haymarket, who also lives in the Bay area, to check it out. He sez there ain't any such guy. Now, I have a lot of faith in Johnny's work and am willing to take his word on this one...
********- End forwarded message ********

Does Adam have multiple personalities? I thought you told me he was "Ishmael" -- that's where I sent a note. Yesterday I received the following e-mails, the first one from someone purporting to be "Adam" who received my note (and commentary) from Johnny Haymarket, who is "Ishmael".

And if he can't find me on the map, he must be looking for me by the wrong name.

******** Forwarded message ********
DATE: 5/8/97 11:49 AM

Hey there Adam!

I got this weird e-mail from a friend of a friend, and the weirdest thing is that I think the friend of a friend is a figment of the friend's imagination. Does that make any sense?

Would you do me a favor and see if you can locate this "person", who goes by the name of Mistah Rick?

Any help with this matter would be greatly appreciated.

******** End forwarded message ********

...And here's what I replied:

******** Forwarded message ********
DATE: 5/8/97 16:32 PM

I live in El Cerrito, by the way, on the hillside just north of Berkeley, with a view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate bridge.

Now, what's your evidence for the idea that I don't exist?

DATE: 5/8/97 17:46 PM

A pal forwarded your note to me and I have been poring over maps of the Berkeley area, but still I have not found you on the map. Hmmmm. Perhaps you do exist, at least virtually, but I am not ready at this time to concede complete persuasion.

******** End forwarded message ********

...and finally, fast-forwarding to the immediate present, a discussion between me and my other (and also existing) Bay Area friend about non-art and non-music:

Check out this article.

It's about a harp, constructed from a single crystal of silicon, and about the size of a red blood cell, the strings of which can be made to vibrate (although at up to 380 MHz, so you aren't exactly going to hear anything played on it...).

Wow! I especially like the idea they've created a harp so tiny we can't see it that plays music in registers we can't even hear. It's sort of like an invisible tree falling in the woods when nobody's around.

I think somebody should create a whole orchestra of these instruments. And then they can set the orchestra up inside a shell cut from a very small grain of rice (a la Hagop Sandaldjian), and program all the instruments to play an entire concert of symphonies, perhaps with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as the grand finale. And this could be a traveling art exhibit, where people are seated around a small plain white pedestal on which is mounted, exactly in the center, this tiny orchestra shell barely visible to the naked eye. And, of course, nobody could actually hear the concert...