What Makes a Café Magical?
A great café is more than a business. It is a business: it must be profitable so it can pay employees and flourish. But a great café is more than a business—it is a secular church, a community without borders, a club without a password or cliques. A great café brings cliques together, makes friends of strangers, and dissolves stress into the present moment.
For 14 years, I’ve worked on my laptop in various cafés. Until this year, we hadn’t had an office for 8 years, and before that, elephant only had an office for a year or two total. I like doing my work in cafés: online work can be so isolating and mental, and a café helps bring me back to society, to friends, to getting up or moving around every once in awhile.
For 14 years, I’ve worked mostly at the Trident Café & Booksellers in Boulder, Colorado. It’s a legendary place, as far as cafés go: anyone who’s lived in or visited Boulder will likely know why. It’s not because it has the best coffee (it doesn’t, though it may have the best tea). It hardly has snacks, let alone lunch food. But it does have huge windows, brick walls, beautiful books, a great caring mindful hard-working friendly yet honest staff.
Over the last six years, this once unchanging institution has been ripped apart, though not entirely in a bad way. Its longtime owner and manager, Mike, was bought out and fired. Even before that, owners had switched in and out several times. I’ve been involved over the last few rounds in finding buyers who cared about the place—the magic of it, not just the conventional wisdom that would say “get rid of books, make the bar bigger” (though both are sensible ideas, I’m sure).
Now, the Trident is for sale, again, and several friends of mine are buying it. It’s a delicate process, and I’ve been in many meetings with community members and owners and employees, and it’s great to hear how everyone cares about the place.
In keeping with that caring, I’ve listed 20 Things I love about the Trident. If you have a favorite local cafe, or run one, you’ll see some of these specifics are universal, and may apply to bringing magic to your favorite “third place.”
20 Little Things I love about The Trident Café & Booksellers:
A great café is more than a business, it’s a third place–the heart of a community–an institution to be taken care of from a place of mission and vision. The Trident Café, in Boulder, Colorado, has been that kind of special institution for 40 years.
1. Mike Smith
2. Huge tall windows. When the front and back doors are open, it’s like working in a shaded yet sunny forest
3. High gloss paint, harkening back to our Victorian roots (when bright colors like maroon, blue, green of the Trident were always high-gloss)
4. The “No talking on cell phones please” rule
5. Books, lots of books. Booksellers who know and love books.
6. The roots of the name “Trident”—in Buddhism, the force of truth piercing the three root neuroses: aggression, ignorance and greed
7. Kerouac at Naropa as greeter; see also the Emperor of China,
A photo posted by Waylon Lewis (@waylonlewis) on
8. the bar mirror, which is sadly accumulating signs: it shows you what you look like today, and if you’re a Trident fan, it shows you what you look like over the course of 10 years or 20 or 30 or 40 years.
9. the way the napkins and utensils and hot water and honey and sugar and all are set right in the way of the line—so, urban renewal style, folks are forced to interact, connect, help one another. Such inconvenience and nookiness lies at the heart of Trident’s power (this one suggested by Anne). The way tech community folks, meeting, and college kids, studying, and elders, debating, and book lovers, shopping, and folks getting to-go all mix up. Community!
10. the timeless old beautiful wood: tables, paneling, floors, trees in the back (missing trees in the front, these days, thanks to the City)
11. Bike parking!
A photo posted by Waylon Lewis (@waylonlewis) on
12. Sandbox! Mom and dads and children and well-behaved dogs! Community in the back!
13. the dragon from that children’s book
14. the beautiful brick
15. the owner of the building, V, who cares about the Trident
16. calligraphized book sections, instead of tacky printed-out ugliness
17. the staff! Jesus. They’re great, with few exceptions, and always have been. The training! The mindfulness for little things like dust and community, that even without Mike is still pretty darn strong.
18. I miss Mike’s willingness to encourage folks to get drinks if they were just hanging out taking up space, or to share tables and meet new friends. I must have met 50 good folks through Mike.
19. The willingness to change in ways consistent with the Trident ethos; and yet the reluctance to change out of discursiveness…the Trident’s traditions and community and lack of profit-focus are part of the reason it is so well-loved. And love does need to translate to making a profit, of course, and there are ways it can be improved! I could name those in another list.
20. the wood-fired stove, on cold cozy days!
What’d I miss?
PS: the first featured stained glass image is from the Halifax Trident, which I loooove. Check it out, if you’re up that way!