Residents gather for coffee, community

By Jennifer Busby

First comes home. Second, work. Third places come next.

In the eighties, Ray Oldenburg describes third places that are neither work nor home and offer a distinct social environment—one essential to building community.

Open to the public, they offer food and drink as well as a comfortable environment that attracts regular patrons.

In the Jefferson Westside neighborhood, third places aren’t hard to find.

Sweet Life Patisserie, on Eighth Avenue and Monroe Street, draws people from across Eugene. It’s here that the Whiteaker blurs into Jefferson Westside and it’s not uncommon for people to confuse the two. It’s an easy mistake to make, considering that many students at the University of Oregon are apt to dub any neighborhood between downtown and Chambers Street as the Whiteaker.

Students make a strong showing, clustered at the long bar that looks out onto Monroe Street.

A pair of students from the University’s music school sit at a small table, talking.

“I’m not competitive with anyone else but her,” the woman says over her cheesecake to the man across from her. She mashes the fruit topping around on her plate with her fork.

He’s dressed in black—his button-down is tucked into dress pants and his leather shoes shine under the table.

They aren’t the only couple—twosomes are scattered throughout the room. At its busiest, the tables outside are for those who are alone, slamming coffee, eyes scanning course packets and laptop screens.

Gerald Rice comes to Sweet Life once or twice weekly to read a book over a cup of coffee. When his job as the Banquet Service Manager at the Eugene Hilton swamps him with paperwork, he trades pleasure for business.

There’s a constant line at the register. One man struggles with the door as he balances a stack of three tidy to-go boxes. It’s hard to believe that the rush ever ends here. A couple who arrive on a motorcycle take their cake outside, hoping for quiet. Sundays aren’t typically as busy, but the weather has brought people out in force.

Scott Suss comes to the patisserie once a month. The University of Oregon junior has lived on the eastern edge of the Jefferson Westside neighborhood for two years. “I had to get out of the campus area,” he says. “It was driving me nuts.”

He visits when he’s craving dessert. When it comes to studying, the Beanery is his coffee shop of choice.

Suss first visited Sweet Life a year ago on a packed night after listening to people talk about the patisserie for a long time. It was busy, he says, but worth the wait. His favorite dessert is the raspberry butternut crunch bar.

Now that it’s warming up, the curly-haired photography major will start riding his bicycle instead of driving. “I just hate riding in the cold,” he says. It’s warm enough on this day that he has the sleeves of his red and black flannel shirt rolled up, exposing a swirling black tattoo on his left forearm.

Just down the street, Monroe Street Cafe is also bustling.

Here, at the intersection of Monroe Street and W 11th Avenue, worn corduroy blazers and all-weather jackets are out in force, replacing the neon American Apparel sweatshirts emblazoned with Greek letters common at Sweet Life.

The cafe almost blends in to the houses further down the street, but the stream of people coming in and out and the sounds of foot-thumping acoustic music filtering through the large front windows give it away.

There’s a worn-in charm to this place with tables made by the owner’s father. People aren’t shy about pushing tables together and rearranging chairs in the small space.

Some come to the cafe to balance business expenses. Some come for the food. Few people sit alone for long.

The table in front of Jason Simon is littered with tambourines, a maraca, and a vibraslap, among other percussion instruments. He lives down the street from the cafe and walks here a few times a week. “I just come down to play music and check out the scene,” he says.

He nods at a tall man dressed in black, “He works his magic all over the place,” Simon says.

Michael MorningSun remembers when Barney Cable's (now Good Times) was Eugene's premier music venue.

The man in black, Michael MorningSun, seeks out Monroe Street Cafe for the community of musicians he finds there. He’s strumming an acoustic bass, waiting for local songstress Elizabeth Cable to arrive.

MorningSun stops at the cafe daily. “I live 180 steps from here,” he says. Wednesdays are a highlight—open mic night. The name doesn’t quite fit as a microphone has no part of the night. Instead, all of the acts are acoustic.

The lack of a microphone encourages poets to take the stage. Every third or fourth act is a poet, MorningSun says. The crowd, packed from the coolers on one side of the room to the wine racks on the other, hushes to listen.

“Other than having no brownstone on top of it, it feels like the Village back in the Beatnik era,” MorningSun says. There is, he says, less finger-snapping, but the cafe boasts and environment that is “always creative and always supportive,” he says.

Fifty percent of the performers are different every week, he says. The vibrant rollover keeps the event stimulating, though MorningSun sees some standouts, particularly a twenty-something Irish man who sings IRA songs that would, today, get him arrested in many parts of London.

Dolly Zang gives credit to MorningSun for his role in cultivating the community of musicians that flows through the cafe. Zang, MorningSun’s ex-wife and friend, says that people look up to him.

The in-house instruments, a guitar, banjo, and mandolin, were paid for after he gathered donations to buy them.

Another regular at the open mic, a woman who Simon describes as a cross between a dread-locked hippie and Betty Boop, takes advantage of the instruments. “She must come out of a tree,” he says. Regardless, she has a habit of bringing the house down with her borrowed guitar.

When Cable returns from dropping off one of her children, an informal jam session materializes around her.

Elizabeth Cable laughs with Daniel Collins, on ukulele. "Lizzie works well with musicians," Dolly Zang says. "She can show up and play with anyone."

A white-haired woman, Cable’s mother, seats herself at a table facing the musicians. She’s wearing a white sweatshirt with two cats on the front; this is the look that so many hipsters strive to emulate. Here, however, the choice—rhinestone earrings and all—is an earnest one.

MorningSun and Simon follow Cable’s lead as her voice soars cleanly above the conversations happening at a table across the room.

A group of four bespectacled men are leaned in close, conversing over pints. The group swells to more than half a dozen rapidly, newcomers pulling chairs into the circle.

Among the cafe’s regulars is a slender black cat named Moon. In the mornings when the cafe is unlocked, Moon will be waiting, having inexplicably found a way in.

“How it gets the coffee going, nobody knows,” Simon says, laughing.

The wooden building as a converted residence that housed the first incarnation of Cornucopia. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Cornucopia has also just opened a restaurant at Fifth Street Market.

Burger Monday brings a crowd to the humble building on 17th Ave and Lincoln Street. A burger and a microbrew for ten dollars is a deal that attracts students and neighborhood residents alike.

Steve King has been coming to Cornucopia since it opened. He remembers living down the street, and stopping at what used to be a small grocery and bottle shop for a loaf of French bread for dinner. Though he now lives in the South Hills, he comes back for what he calls the best garden burger in town.

“If they can’t do a better job than you can at home—what’s the point?” he says. “Going out for the sake of going out isn’t something that’s appealing any longer.”

The ambience and food have kept King coming back for the last decade. His children, both University graduates, live in town and come to the restaurant on occasion.

The vurgers, as they’re called here, are house-made tempeh patties that come five ways. King pushes his menu away without opening it. A vegetarian for 30 years, he already knows what he wants: JB’s Garden Vurger. It comes with avocado, pepper jack cheese and a hearty side of fries.

When the weather warms, the back patio opens. King enjoys playing cards outside with friends, he says.

Part of the allure of the restaurant is its location off the beaten path. Given the way the dining room is structured, it gets noisy quickly. Like the other gathering places in the neighborhood, Cornucopia is wood-paneled and warm inside.

“If you want to dine locally and not grease the skids for some corporate mega-monster,” King says, “this is as good as a place that you’ll find.”

Bustling with regulars, the third places in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood shore up a sense of community each time someone lets loose and exclamation of recognition. Laughter and slaps on the back are currency in these places.

King remembers when the intersection of Blair and Monroe streets was desolate. With the establishment of places like Sweet Life and Sam Bond’s Garage since the 1980s, King says, he had a reason to call Eugene home.


Map of Third Places in the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood

New cupcakery offers quiet environment

It’s easy to miss the Divine Cupcake on the way down W 11th Avenue.

Sandwiched between a MetLife office and a defunct muffler shop is the newest bakery in town. Owners Emily Downing-Moore and Thaddeus Moore have been dusting Eugene with their vegan confections for years, and opening their first storefront on March 5.

The opening day was out of control, Britt Brady says. There was a line out the door from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., he says.

Brady has known the owners for three years. In the two years before the brick and mortar store opened on the corner of Chambers Street, Brady delivered cupcakes to Market of Choice and “hippie stores” across town.

Brady also works at Sprout City, the recording studio behind the Divine Cupcake that Thaddeus owns. He plays guitar and sings in Circa Vitae with the owner, too.

Brady is the only person on staff who has worked for the Divine Cupcake when its cupcakes had no place to call home. Although they were available at Saturday Market, the Oregon Country Fair, and grocery stores, having a central bakery makes a word of difference.

Customers will find their way to the avocado-green storefront after tasting a cupcake at a wedding or birthday party or picking one up at a store. It’s not uncommon for new visitors to be surprised by the difference in quality, Brady says. “They’re fresher and a lot moister than they’d imagine.”

The non-vegan says that these cupcakes are the best he’s ever had—a statement he’d stand by even if he didn’t spend his days slinging the baked goods.

These cupcakes taste like food, Brady says, particularly when compared with others that taste like air-puffed sugar.

The Divine Cupcake is a specialty shop, striving for quality, not variety. “There’s an art, a way to do everything, even if it’s just drip house coffee,” he says. He’s pouring measuring cups of hot water over organic Wandering Goat coffee grounds. These are skills he’s learned from head barista Cash Reynolds. Reynolds maintains a blog called For the Love of Coffee.

The store aims to have a small environmental footprint as well, something that Brady says is simple when there’s planning involved. “It’s something that I wish more businesses would do.”

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