Café Coco is a coffee house in Nashville, originally called "Elliston
Place Café" and then "Café Elliston". It sits
nestled in the back of a road called Elliston Place, Elliston and Louise Ave,
right off West End Blvd and caters (literally, it caters, too) to every walk
of human life imaginable. Punks, goths, glams, Vandy Bunnies/Biffs, preps,
nerds, techno geeks, musicians, writers, artists, business people,
investors, freaks... you name it, you can probably find it at Café
My personal introduction to the place was back in late 1996, shortly after
I'd moved in with my cousin, Faizi. Faizi was an aspiring artist and at the
time he was doing a joint art show with another person (whom I later ended up
dating- and later learned that you never date Cafe Coco people, otherwise known as CocoNuts). From the first time I stepped into the place, I liked it. Quiet jazz
was playing on the speakers that had been discretly placed throughout the shop,
people were standing around and smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, others
were sitting at coffee tables and enjoying idle conversation or playing chess...
it was like... I'd found a home, a place to belong. If you had thirty
piercings, wore multi-colored clothing and tattoos were proudly shown all over
your body, the most you'd get was a quick glance from a stranger, but mostly
everyone there was accepted (or tolerated at the very least). Conversely, if
you were a student with books to read, it's an implied and unwritten rule that
you be left alone to do your thing. "Live and let live" should be
the motto of Café Coco.
Since then I've been hanging out at Café Coco almost religiously (close
to 5 nights a week). For the first year I sat back and just watched people,
listening to various conversations and making note of the "regulars"
who seemed to have free run there. I was a recognizeable face, but no one seemed
to know my name or why I was there... but no one bothered me, either, which was
nice. Sometimes I'd bring a notepad with me and write on a story or enjoy the
company of a friend, but I rarely said or did anything to bring attention to
myself. It was my place to be "away."
Things have changed, though. People know who I am, they know my name and
face as well as they know their own family members. And some people there treat
each other like family members. Occasionally there's a squabble or
two, what we call "drama", or even some pretty nasty arguments...
but it's a very, very odd thing to see actual fights or disunity there. Awnings
have been put up, benches installed, the smoking section has been moved and reduced
a 10x10 room, the back porch is open once again... and the name's been changed
more times than I've changed my own name over the years. But through it all,
people have stuck, customers continue to come in and pay $1.40 for the first cup
o' joe and 60¢ for a refill.
Open 24/7, Café Coco represents something uniquely American: The Capitalist/Anarchist
Melting Pot Society. I was raised and brought up in an environment where people
of all nationalities, races, religions, ideologies and whatnot were welcomed
with open arms. Café Coco is much the same- you're more than welcome
provided you pay for something as simple as a cup of coffee and don't cause trouble.
I've heard stories of people getting banned from the place, but from what I
hear you have to really screw up to get banned. Mistakes are forgiven,
impropriety is not.
Best times to go there are variable, depending on what you like. Me? I prefer
any night visit there. On the weekends, Friday and Saturday, you can expect
the place to be hopping with business- and a line a mile long. During the
week, though, you can usually go there at any time and not have to wait longer
than, at the most, 10 minutes in line to make your order. Oh, that's right! Food!
Fine Italian dishes and health-conscious plates, greasy sandwiches, desserts
galore, appetizers... even breakfast can be had there. Whatever you're looking
for in the way of benign human social interaction, you can and likely will
find it at Café Coco.