Shady’s Cafe, Part 1

I arrive at 5 p.m. as promised and am greeted warmly by Dan and Viva, the two artists responsible for dreaming up tonight’s underground restaurant. Dan is one of the most calm, humble, honest, genuine men my age that I know. He is not arrogant by any means, yet he seems so comfortable with himself that just being around him puts me at ease. Add to this his all-pervasive sense of humor and in my opinion, Dan’s one of the best guys around. And the lovely Viva, of course, used to own and manage an award-winning restaurant in San Francisco. The power of these two dynamic personalities, combined with their graceful reputations around the craft school, will draw a crowd of over fifty people tonight for what they’re calling Shady’s Café.

Completely uncertified, under the table, and at times unsanitary (though not any more so than our own kitchens), this endeavor will serve to be one of this winter’s highlights at the school. While there are no classes, winter is in effect a time reserved for “serious” artists who come from all over the country to rent studio space and work tirelessly on their own projects for affordable rates. Viva, for example, is preparing a series of sculptures for her portfolio so that she can apply to graduate school. I have volunteered my time for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Ms. Viva and the chance to see loads of friends.

It works like this: A jar sits near the front door with a sign posted for a suggested donation of “$8 to $1 million-whatever you can afford to leave-we love you.” B.Y.O.B if desired and sit down. Dan and I work the tables while Amber and Viva manage the plates and food in back. Carol rocks the dishes in her Afro–wig and polyester plaid bellbottoms. Polly and Zach entertain with sultry folk-blues in the background and the place is three-quarters full within the first thirty minutes. Tonight’s menu: Spicy roasted pumpkin seeds, lentil kale stew, griddled chili cumin cake with cilantro lime coulis, and roasted beets. For dessert, we will serve ginger snaps with chai ice cream and candied ginger.

After much arranging of tables, chairs, fabric, silk flowers, Dan’s ceramic candle holders, vases, and spice bowls, and a little dimming of the lights, we are ready out front. Viva puts the finishing touches on most of the food, which was prepared the night before (and subsequently into the wee hours of the next morning). By 6:30 p.m. people are rapping on the windows of the art building, and little circles of fog form around their jaw-dropped-wide-open mouths as they peer in to see the space transformed into Shady’s Café.

We unlock the doors, turn off the music as Polly and Zach begin to play, and the adventures begin…
(continued tomorrow)

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