With only a week remaining until our move on the Urban Deluxe countdown calendar, the last pieces of sale furniture making their way to new homes, donation-making and packing in its last stages, John and I are taking a last look around our Lowertown St. Paul neighborhood to say our goodbyes. One of the most difficult parts of our life to let go of will be our second home at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar. Nestled on what was once an obscure backstreet, but will soon contain the maintenance hub of the Central Corridor Light Rail system, the Black Dog has been where we have met friends, listened to great music, enjoyed a constant rotation of innovative and local art as well as gotten to know friendly baristas and proprietress, Sarah Remke.
After leaving a secure job to dive into start-up, mission-based entrepreneurship, the Black Dog was my office. Sarah and her crew know the story of how I started my company, and all about my staff, many of whom live with disabilities. They have supported and encouraged my work, evening donating gift cards to our first company picnic. They have become a part of the story of our life here in many ways and it will be an adjustment not to have them be a part of our daily routine.
John and my weekly Sunday ritual of attending meditation and the dharma talk at the Clouds in Water Zen Center, then migrating down the hall for a leisurely dark roast (for me) and triple shot espresso (for John) at the Black Dog, will be over after this weekend. It is with tears in my eyes that I think of that and write this blog entry.
What can make a place that special in the hearts and minds of a neighborhood? That could be difficult to say, but I’ve got to try.
First, we’re certain that the Black Dog has, hands down, the best coffee in the city. They’ve got an amazing cup of standard brew and unparalleled espresso. This has been perfect for us as a couple because both of our signature drinks are covered.
My daughter, Liv, is a formally trained barista in Chicago where her place of employment sent her to a “coffee college” to learn how to roast beans and create what she calls “real” coffee beverages. (Timed-frothing and all the technical trimmings.) “There are very few coffee houses I’ve been to where I feel that they probably know more about making good coffee than I and my coworkers do,” Liv said just last month when she was visiting us, “and one of those is the Black Dog.”
Second, local art and music abounds here; that kind of atmosphere takes you out of yourself and calls you to be something better every time you’re around it. Part of the reason we moved to Lowertown was to support the arts community and immerse ourselves in it. However, I don’t think we’ve always understood how much being around local art and music has prompted us to discuss and think about things we might have otherwise ignored in the world around us. That experience has made us grow as people and happens every time we walk through the Black Dog’s door.
Third is that the Black Dog truly is the place where everyone knows your name, or at least acknowledges that you are part of the community. There are neighbors we only interact with at the Black Dog, many of whom we never exchange names with, but whom we greet weekly and speak with often. That type of feeling is something you can’t force or manufacture; it comes from an atmosphere where people are welcomed and respected. Whether the day has been bad, or good, the Black Dog is a place you can go to relax and, with the nod of a head from a neighbor or barista, know you’re accepted.
Fourth is that the Lowertown artist community holds court at the Black Dog every day of the week. To those of us who work jobs that are far less creative and live lifestyles not quite as avant-garde, you value being able to eaves drop on stimulating conversations about who sold one of their pieces and who just got an exhibit somewhere. I’ll admit it. I live vicariously through these folks when managing staff issues and trying to pay the bills for a struggling little startup seems overwhelming. Drifting away on their conversation, I can imagine myself living in the Tilsner, throwing a pot on a wheel or boldly placing paint strokes on a canvas while preparing for the next Art Crawl.
There will be no replacing the Black Dog Cafe in our new neighborhood, but we look forward to keeping the people, and the coffee, we’ve enjoyed in Lowertown deep in our memories into the future. We also gently remind ourselves that, despite that fact that we are now carless, the rail line just outside the Black Dog’s door will connect our new Minneapolis North Loop home to Sarah, the baristas and the coffee in just a few short months.