Charles Bradley’s “Slow Love” plays on a record through the chatter of coffee shop talk, clicking of keyboards and turning of pages.
“Just you and me / Us against the world / Baby I love you / This a evil world we live in”
It seeps into the brick walls, the black wall paint and plush leather couches. Shinola Cafe is a secret, both a mancave and luxury getaway all at once. It’s almost intimidating at first glance. Hidden in the basement of Detroit watch and leather brand Shinola, the coffee shop is a place where time seems to stop — the music, the fading red bricks, the black interior with minimal lighting — even the people seem to be posing for the cover of an independent film.
Though it’s my first time at Shinola Cafe, I had been meaning to come here much sooner. I decided it was time I tried something new. Everything will be new in six weeks once I graduate; might as well start now with coffee. I’ve found myself going to the same cafe to get my morning caffeine kick and croissant, a different coffee shop to write my thesis after classes and at night and a different one on weekends for uninterrupted hours of work. Everything about Shinola Cafe is new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever even stepped foot into a Shinola store, but I like that it feels like I’ve been here before — it’s timeless in that way.
I’ve been in a lull recently — six weeks until commencement, 20 days until the last day of undergrad, slowly realizing I’ll be leaving Ann Arbor and the kindness of midwestern people. The inevitable ending of this chapter of my life is only a few pages away, and honestly, “Call Me By Your Name” has got me feeling something heavy in my gut since I first saw it. I sway between being ready to leave and not being ready at all. I go from childish excitement for my post-undergraduate life to nearly debilitating anxiety. It’s scary to see the finish line without knowing much of what lies beyond it.
I get a cappuccino. The menu is small and printed on gray paper that makes it hard to read. It’s not a place for customized syrupy lattes and alternative milk choices, although they do have almond milk. No one is a coffee amateur here and it seems like everyone has a go-to espresso drink. It’s simple, which is a nice change.
The barista brings my drink and we make small talk about pastries in the glass case. He says they’re from the People’s Food Co-op in Ann Arbor. I sit at a large, industrial-looking metal table with an antique lamp in the corner. It gives off a nice glow onto the brick. The rest of the basement feels a bit like a black hole; it’s sprawled and dark so I can hardly see where the cushions end and the wall begins. It’s chic and cozy at the same time. The basement is spacious — I’m a little bummed I didn’t come here sooner.
“God, we wasted so many days,” Elio says in “Call Me By Your Name”.
I’m realizing again how special Ann Arbor is. There are so many hidden places that I never thought to explore in my first couple years at the University. I used to almost exclusively go to Starbucks or other chains, simply because I knew the menu better or didn’t want to go anywhere new alone. But this year, especially now, I’ve enjoyed being by myself in this city — coffee shops, independent films at the State Theatre, boutique stores. Ann Arbor has so much to offer.
No, it’s not a city in northern Italy with secret lakes and hidden patches of grass; no Hellenistic sculptures are to be found at the bottom of the Huron River, as far as we know. But there is a part of life in Ann Arbor that’s sophisticated and romantic like that. Or I guess you could make it feel that way if you choose. There is great cinema, performing arts, food and thoughtful conversation all over town.
I didn’t take advantage of the cafe lifestyle that defines a part of college life here. Anyone who knows me now knows I’d rather be writing, reading or conversing at a local coffee shop than getting wasted on a Saturday night. Not that one is better than the other; there are benefits to both. I know I’m missing a chapter of “The College Experience” because I refuse to go to Skeeps. I’d rather go to bed early to wake up and get to my favorite cafe when it opens, because I need that corner table or that one chair that faces the window with the Irish pub across the street. Honestly, I can’t tell you why because I don’t understand my obsession either.
I get a chocolate croissant to go, but it’s gone before I know it.
I don’t think we think or feel enough. Our phones and computers do the thinking, but little time do we spend with our thoughts, talking about the things that matter, writing about these weights or joys. I find that for me, I do this best in places like this. I notice more. I feel more. I think I become more sensitized to myself and recognize I go too fast; that I need to savor more. Here, I enjoy what it feels like to put words on paper, to listen to the atmosphere and enjoy the chaos that is now, that is tomorrow, that is the future. There’s something sentimental and nostalgic about it — knowing that T.S. Elliot, F. Scott Fitzergald and J.K. Rowling all wrote in places like this, as if I could understand the workings of their minds by being in a similar space. But maybe it’s a start.
What a waste we don’t go to places like Shinola Cafe more often.