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Back Buzz - June 6, 1997

pumping heart Queen Anne Coffee House, 1625 Queen Anne Ave North, Upper Queen Anne

I was first drawn to this place because of the sign: a two-dimensional silhouette of a graceful figure rising gently above the door, visible from the sides but virtually invisible when seen straight on. And then, of course, after being the location for the filming of Rodney Lee Rogers' Steaming Milk, which premiered at this year's Seattle International Film Festival, I practically had to go.

The cafe seems fairly roomy, consisting of a small stage in one corner (for readings and open-mike nights), a long coffee table in the opposite corner, and a small scattering of table-and-chair groupings, leaving a lot of open space in which to walk around, stand, tap-dance, or perhaps juggle chainsaws. There isn't much to say about the overall atmosphere; it's kind of a thrown-together place. I was reminded of the coffeehouses I used to frequent before I was old enough to go to bars. There was the Free Spirit, a room in the basement of a Methodist church where my high school friends and I would hang out, drink gallons of coffee, and consume sugar wafers while the more popular musicians from our high school would perform. When I was 18 I discovered a new place, the House of Zaccheus, a nonreligious hangout run by a minister of some sort. This is where I converted to the Church of Good Coffee, the objects of my worship including Viennese, French Roast, and Kenya, all brewed in a cone filter and accompanied by Turkish pastries. By this time I'd worked up enough nerve to perform myself, playing my guitar and singing my songs like the millions of other singing poet teenagers in the world. And then there was the People of Orphalese, an exciting place where I met my first batch of musician friends. Turning 21, however, I immediately deserted Orphalese in favor of the more arty beer bars in town which were just as bohemian and exciting -- and I didn't have to worry anymore about staying up till dawn with caffeine jitters.

I almost felt twenty, or at least fifteen, years too old for the Queen Anne Coffee House. But the coffeehouses of my youth were open only at night and had volunteers working the cash drawers and making pots of coffee. The Queen Anne, on the other hand, is a regular business, just like all the other coffeehouses in Seattle. So I do have a right to drink a cappuccino here, right? Like, uh, right!

My double short cappuccino was served in a nice delicate white cup. The drink was pleasant, strong enough, with a very nice foam job. The beans -- from Lighthouse Roasters -- weren't too memorable at first, but they ultimately left a nice slightly silty aftertaste reminiscent of the more Italian coffees I've had. The barista was a very friendly and talkative young man who seemed proud of his drinks and was into money-saving coupons. He told me about all the restaurants in the neighborhood he liked which regularly offer two-for-one coupons. He seemed a bit isolated behind the counter, though, since it was inset diagonally into a back corner away from the tables. I guess I'm used to baristas being more accessible, more a central part of the cafe environment than a side accouterment. He seemed to have plenty of neighborhood friends, though, who would drop in and chat while they waited for their drinks-to-go. Perhaps he made up for being so separated from the coffeehouse nucleus by acting as the neighborhood water cooler -- i.e. a place for neighborhood coffee drinkers to gather each day and pass the time.

Speaking of water coolers, here's an e-mail exchange I had with my Bay Area friend a year or two ago:

Like many other offices I have worked in, ours provides bottled water in the usual five-gallon plastic bottles. The dispenser looks typical until you try to replace an empty bottle. Instead of the usual orifice on top, this one has a pointed metallic object that looks like a copulatory organ pointed upward. The bottles have the usual plastic cap, but when you pull it off, a thin membrane remains beneath. When you upend the bottle to install it on the dispenser, this membrane prevents spillage and provides a moment of excitement when the membrane settles onto the erect member and is punctured with a gentle sigh.

I wonder who thought of this system. I'm surprised it hasn't swept through the corporate environment.

Your description of the water dispenser really stimulated me. The fact that one can look forward to a higher level of pleasure than that disappointing little "glug" you get as you pour a cup of water is really exciting. What comes next? Will drinking water in the office because the "safe" social interaction of the future?