Love Letters to Ann Arbor: Beginnings and endings at Elixir Vitae

Monday, November 11, 2019 - 4:44pm

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Design by Maggie Wiebe

I didn’t get to know Elixir Vitae Coffee and Tea until it was almost too late.

In the Ann Arbor coffee shop scene, Elixir Vitae is an outlier. Maybe it’s the location, tucked away on Maynard Street, a part of Ann Arbor that only gets frequented by student traffic on Saturday nights when the Scorekeepers line stretches into the parking garage. Or the storefront, unassuming and almost drab. But it’s something else, too — it feels like you have to be invited to step foot in Elixir for the first time. It’s not a place you just happen into by accident.

It’s difficult to conceptualize what exactly sets Elixir apart. Maybe it's the haphazard swirls and eyes painted on the wall or the long-haired barista more often than not found lounging out front smoking his cigarette. Or maybe it's the bathroom, covered in hand-scrawled poetry, calls to activism, professions of love and quips on the futility of existence. Elixir is a conscious response to its Ann Arbor coffee shop peers claiming to be alternative, quirky and counter-culture with their mismatched furniture, racks of minimalist greeting cards and $6 oat milk lattes. 

Elixir is not a $6 oat milk latte coffee shop. Elixir is a $2 local brew coffee shop.

I only found Elixir Vitae earlier this semester — my senior year at the University of Michigan, after having already lived in this city for three years. My first visit was by invitation, of course. A friend was meeting another friend there, and I was generously permitted to tag along.

In those few short months since my introduction to Elixir, I’ve fallen hard. It’s a fixture of my daily routine now, a reflex — a given destination rather than a conscious decision. Most days, I’ll set up shop at one of the tables by the window with my mug of Roos Roast Lobster Butter Love coffee, and hammer out an essay, some emails, whatever’s on the list for the day. It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard for me to get certain tasks done if I’m not at Elixir, like writing pretty much anything that’s not a dry response paper. Something about the overall aura gets the creative juices flowing in a manner the Ugli could never — the majority of this column, for example, was written at the window table closest to the door. It’s objectively best table in Elixir — unobstructed view of street traffic for people-watching breaks and right next to the outlet.

How did I let Elixir take me over so completely, so quickly?

I think my sudden, all-consuming attachment to Elixir is due in large part to being a senior. I have a few months left in Ann Arbor, and then my undergraduate career will be over — done, finished.

Elixir is the kind of place that my ideally constructed college student — the Rory Gilmore that high school Meghann strived to be — would have spent all her time. This character would be casually artistic and creative in all the right ways, a person thoroughly engaged in activism and changing the world, constantly surrounded by huge circles of inspiring and high-achieving friends.

And I don’t feel like that person — at least not in the way that my naïve, high school self imagined I would be. 

I have wonderful friends. I’m involved in organizations that feel relevant and inspiring. I do recognize that I’ve grown immensely from the person I was when I got to Michigan. I have a much better sense of self, of what I like and who I want to be around, and I’m proud of the person I am now — I truly am. 

But I don’t feel like I’ve achieved all the goals out there, grown in all the possible ways, become that elusive accomplished, worldly college student that I was supposed to be by now, in my final year of undergrad — even if that student is, and always was, nothing but a construct pieced together from books and TV shows and my academic parents’ dinner table conversations growing up.

It’s hard to shake the sense that it’s too late. I’m trying to grasp at all the straws that will make me that person in my last couple semesters living in Ann Arbor and doing the college thing. Spending all my time at Elixir Vitae, prioritizing time with friends that inspire me and make me laugh, writing (this column), playing my guitar more often. 

I’m well aware that it’s absurdly unrealistic to expect that of myself, to live up to some ideal of what I think the perfect college student should be — after all, aren’t we all just constant works in progress? Isn’t that what every self-help book/motivational speaker/therapist ever has said, over and over? But that doesn’t make it any less difficult for me to accept that I haven’t done everything that I wanted to in college — and college is ending in only a few short months. And when it does, there will be club meetings I never went to, stories I never wrote, friendships that were never deepened past superficial hello’s. 

So I’m clinging to Elixir for the moment, and any semblance of idealized identity I have attached to it. Keeping in mind that my days spent between these electric teal walls are numbered, and trying not to think too much about what will happen when those days inevitably run out.

But am I allowed to be upset about my time with this coffee shop coming to an end? Can I claim Elixir for my own, claim whatever passing fling we’ve had over the past couple months as an affair serious enough to warrant the overwhelming sadness I feel for leaving its comforts? 

In the end, all I can say is that I hope students continue to embrace Elixir — even after I’ve gone, despite the reflexive twinge of jealousy that accompanies the realization that I’ll have to relinquish my space to a new generation. I hope a new wave of college students manage to spend their formative years sitting around these tables, talking about socialism and climate change — spending their whole college experience having those conversations and being those people, not just their senior year.

And maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe this new wave of Elixir devotees would leave college feeling just as disillusioned as I’m currently feeling, struggling with at once recognizing how transformed they’ve become over the past four years and being terrified that there’s only so much time left for that change to continue happening.

But I’d like Elixir to be there for them, anyway.