Though Cafe Kopi has been running for over 20 years, the building it occupies was erected c. 1910. These old structures are generally musty and inefficient, but they can hold some curious secrets. There’s the old elevator shaft in the basement, and occasionally I find evidence that the space once housed Sandwell’s Paints in the ’40s. Similarly, Kopi itself has several hidden features you probably pass every day without thinking twice.
Notes in Drawer
A couple of the old tables in the dining area are fitted with drawers, one of which has amassed several hundred notes left by customers over the years. The quotes, doodles, confessions, or just greetings to future guests, have become the equivalent of our own Post Secret. The drawer was stuffed so full, we had to move the excess to a drawer in the other room.
When we expanded our seating seven years ago, the son of a designer asked to christen the new room with a mobile of paper cranes. The seemingly simple origami has special significance in the East, being a symbol of luck, longevity, and fidelity, and we hope to embody this symbol for some time.
Trappings from Bali
The original owner used to travel to Indonesia for her import business, so the café was inspired by motifs of the island nation (“Kopi” means coffee in Bahasa), and from her collection we inherited many relics of Balinesianf art. Some are on permanent display while others come and go when we transition artist shows. The cherub by our tea menu is the most visible, but also notice the fabric hanging above the food area, the wood plaque above the gateway to the green room, and the shuttered mirror in the rear of the orange room.
For years, customers have admired the painting of a fin-de-siècle Paris street scene in the women’s restroom. People ask me, “Is it a Gideon?” and I couldn’t honestly say. We’ve had offers to purchase the piece, but I’m reluctant to lose a part of the Kopi mystique that has reached Legend status.
These are the highlights, and I fear I’m forgetting some others I take for granted. I suspect we are all surrounded by hidden treasures every day if we would only make the daily effort to recognize them. Of course, I recommend doing so with a coffee in hand.
- Paul West (Cafe Kopi)