Starbucks this is not.
In the basement of Northwestern University’s Kresge Hall, tucked away between foreign language classrooms and pottery workshops lies what seems like an afterthought of a space. Too big to be a storage closet; too small a space in which to hold a class, this room sits, likely overlooked on any other day.
Wide windows dominate one wall, allowing the morning light, softened by the haze of winter’s overcast, to wash over the room. Hung upon the remaining four walls are paintings, sketches, scribbled poems, leaves from around campus. Chairs scattered around the perimeter of the room are occupied by students, working, talking, laughing.
Those who didn’t arrive in time to grab a seat spread out happily on the floor. A table set off to the side hosts a man vigorously working at his computer. And in the back corner of this room, this unusual room lit by the sun, heated by those in it, a folding table. On the table: a plug-in water heater, a French press, and a plastic tray of store-bought cookies.
I was told that I could acquire a cup of coffee at this establishment, cryptically named “K1-430.” “It’ll be a couple of minutes before the next batch is ready, but you can pay now if you want,” the man, the de facto barista, said to me. I handed him a bow: one of those twisted deals that’s meant to sit atop a birthday gift. Appropriately, it’s Northwestern purple. “Go ahead and have a seat, the coffee will be up in a couple of minutes.” “All right, great, thanks,” I reply excessively, on the way to an open seat, a yellow chair the seventies would love to have back, placed right next to the door.
When the coffee is ready, I return to the “counter,” to be greeted by a cup too big for an espresso shot, but too small for much else. Then again, I’ve always thought a Starbucks “tall” was too much coffee. The coffee is thick and rich, with a few flakes of ground beans floating around the rim. For some reason, this cup of coffee was particularly satisfying; it needed no cream or sugar: no bitter aftertaste from which to hide.
As I sat in that chair, enjoying my coffee, others came and went, paying for their cup with whatever they had to offer. Some gave leaves, some brought poetry, others demonstrated yoga poses. And everybody received a tiny, ground laden cup of nonetheless delicious coffee.
This strange café was brought to you by a group of students taking Installation Art class at Northwestern and ran from November 21st until today, December 2nd, excluding Thanksgiving break. This is all too short, if you asked me. After all, why would you go to Starbucks for a $3 or more cup of mediocre brew when you could go to the basement of Kresge and trade a yoga pose you so happen to know for a cup brewed with love? Love.
And all it costs is whatever you have to offer.