Walking into the Monroe Street Cafe on a grey Monday night, the atmosphere is immediately friendly. Several smiles are thrown my way as I enter the small cafe. Its front room is wood paneled and the four antique lights hanging from the ceiling add a pleasant ambiance.
The vegetarian chili is hearty. The jalapenos dispersed throughout add pleasant heat. The soup is served in the same kind of glass bowls my mother used for ice cream when I was a kid. Two slices of crusty bread accompany the cheese and onion topped soup. There were no coffee cups the first time I came to this humble cafe; this time, the carafes are empty. The long-haired woman working the front counter makes a fresh pot when she realizes they’re empty. Although I had to ask for a clean spoon to stir sugar into my cup, the coffee is strong and flavorful.
The cafe sells wine and beer by the bottle, as well as a variety of grocery items. Monday is game day, with two dollar pints. A few people mill around near the front counter, waiting for a keg to arrive. At 6:30, the door opens and a stocky man wheels a keg of Hop Valley beer over the worn linoleum floor. “Hi Marty, how ya’ doin’?” The woman working offers. The waiting patrons explode into applause. The beer has arrived! The first round is on Marty, and the waitress circles the room asking people if they’re having a pint. “Never a dull moment,” she says as he heads into the employee area to tap the keg.
Mo’St, as it’s called by its regulars, is a comfortable space to drink a pint and converse with friends. Six twenty-somethings sit down for beer and board games at one of the small round tables set in the middle of the room. A black cat with a rhinestone collar slinks its way through chair legs and pauses to sniff a patron’s purse. Two people at a nearby table play Scrabble. They pull letter tiles from a brown take-out box.
Despite the handwritten sign asking people to use the side entrance to the back porch, most patrons wind their way through the dimly lit kitchen to the tables at the restaurant’s rear. The other route to the back is an unlit walkway on the side of the building that is sandwiched between the side of the building and a fence not three feet away.
The close proximity of tables and the narrowness of the space give an air of intimacy that larger restaurants seek to emulate.
Guitar and conversation is enveloping on the back porch. This is a place for regulars and I find myself engaged in a conversation about American economic policy and environmentalism with two smoke-ringed men.
Most of the tables in the back aren’t covered. Slick with rain, they don’t make for appealing seating. The only covered table is crowded; a man in his late twenties strums a guitar and the table breaks into song.
When I leave, I shuffle through the dim kitchen, making sure not to bump the deli slicer as I leave. It’s much the same feeling as when you stumble upon a bedroom when you’re searching for the bathroom in an unfamiliar home—I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be back here at all. No one seems to mind.
I can count on being greeted with smiles and good food the next time I’m back. Wednesday is open mic night, which is bound to be boisterous considering the exuberance displayed by regulars on this chilly evening. It is only Monday, after all.
Monroe Street Cafe is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 1123 Monroe Street 541-342-8158