People mill around, soaking up sunshine on the most perfect of Saturday afternoons. Nobody rushes by the quaintly picturesque tableau of urban relaxation. People are content to sit, soaking up the sun as a delicate wind provides a bit of relief from the heat. Everyone here is dressed for comfort rather to impress. People in this neighborhood know each other. They stop and hug on the street. A mother passes by and smiles at the people on the patio before continuing on. A woman gets up to leave, chic in leg warmers and a jacket lined with fur. I wonder at her outfit choice chalking it up to being cold natured. I was pleasantly surprised to see her ride by on a vintage Harley motorcycle a few moments later, too cool. To be near this place is contentment incarnate. While you might be tempted to picture a paradise populated exclusively by hipsters, there is a refreshing mix of people from multiple races, backgrounds, and style preferences.
This is my first visit. I’ve driven by a dozen times, chiding myself, promising that I’d visit on my next weekend. The next time that I had time. Now that I’ve visited, I’m chiding myself for waiting so long. For not taking the time to sit, soak in the sun, drink some wine, and relax. The self abuse doesn’t continue for long, the day is to beautiful to indulge my inner critic. I sip my wine, I write this post, and enjoy the day.
My first approach found that rare table; but being unsure of myself I went inside to inquire as to the seating rules. Being a former server, I do my best to respect the rules of the establishment. The barista assured me that tables are first come first serve here. Unfortunately by the time I ordered my wine and made it back outside my coveted spot was taken. I settled myself in an out of the way spot. It wasn’t really a table, I’m sure no one else would have been comfortable here. The spot was deceptive in its minimalism; a stool, a bench, and an umbrella. The stool served as my table while I wrote. It was perfect. I was incredibly comfortable, and there was only room for my laptop, no phone, no books, no papers, no internet, no distractions.
Though the Big Bear Cafe is traditionally a coffee house, there is no wifi during select hours. This phenomenon exists from 9AM to 4PM on Saturdays and Sundays. While my inner internet addict protests, my inner writer rejoices; writing without distraction. I cannot fault the Big Bear Cafe management for their choice. They want people to come, sip a beverage, enjoy the atmosphere. They are not so indulging of people who come to write their theses, order a cup of coffee, and take up valuable and coveted seating. If your goal is to be on the internet on the weekends, there are other places and IPhones and Androids to indulge this need. The Big Bear Cafe is not the place.
The cafe is equally comfortable and quaint on the inside, though now that it is warm enough, I have no desire to enjoy the atmosphere. With that said, libations and food are available inside and must be ordered at the counter. Additionally art from a number of artists adorned the walls. One painting in particular caught my eye. It was massive, broad strokes, unframed, colorful on a sheet of paper; it was attached to the wall with those large paper clips designed for large stacks of paper. I was mesmerized. I walked up, looking at the menu, I didn’t even have time to peruse before the barista smiled her sunny smile and asked if she could get me anything. I was disappointed to read on the menu written chalk that cocktails were served after 6PM. My inner alcoholic could not stand to wait 40 minutes. At a loss for what to order, I asked the Barista if the term cocktails applied to wine and beer as well. She smiled her sunny smile and assured me that it did not. I ordered a Cabernet / Syrah blend called Tamas that was absolutely delectable. Other patrons sipped what I assume was cappuccino in cups large enough to double as soup bowls. Tea was served in traditional Japanese pots for both single servings and individual servings. Eventually I needed a refill. I stood at the border of inside and outside, afraid of having my laptop stolen. A merciful waitress or barista kindly asked me what I wanted and told me to keep an eye on my things while she got my wine. I hadn’t realized until then that the Big Bear had servers; they blended that well with the patrons: ninjas. It was that simple; I kept writing.
I’m embarrassed to say that my third trip to the bar resulted in the server pouring almost twice as much into my glass. I can only surmise that he thought a trip to the bar every 15 minutes even a a beautiful day was a bit much. I smiled my bashful, unapologetic smile, accepted my wine, and moved to a spot inside since the sun was going down. This time I got an equally amazing view point in a corner by the door. I sat in an antique chair beside a barstool table with my laptop settled on top of my knees: heaven.
Time will tell if this is a place to indulge my inner food. It is a place that you come to read, to write, to let the creative juices flow, to grab a bite, to sip your beverage of preference, and chat with your favorite person. Whether that beverage be tea, coffee, beer, or wine all needs are met, and I myself am not in a position to judge (the barista’s and servers made fun of me after my 3rd trip to the bar). They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the added bonus of a free comedy show on every 2nd and 4th Saturday. Additionally a farmer’s market sets up shop outside of the cafe every Sunday. I like to imagine that given the seasonality of their menu, the chefs get a large portion of the ingredients from outside of their front door.
On Sunday evenings something special happens; Big Bear Cafe offers a banquet dinner served family style. The dinner is by reservation only and seats only 15 people. I have not been, but will be attempting to lock down a seat in the near future. A table full of strangers, interesting conversation, and delectable food: heavenly. I didn’t eat, this time. But I’ll be back, not in a couple of weeks or a few days. I’ll be back tomorrow; and hopefully I’ll decide to sample the food rather than wile away my day sipping wine and sun soaking.