Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gem of a Town holds Jungle Oasis

To get back to my trip north with Lindi last week: I’m impressed with Astoria, and the Astorians. I return every couple of years expecting it to be ruined, and it’s still not. The gorgeous old buildings still stand, and best of all, the shops below them are still cool. Many are the same shops that have been there for generations. Others are newer businesses, like thrift shops or coffee shops, each one an extension of the personality of its owner. (I can say that since I had conversations with several of them.) How are they able to survive? It must be that Walmart hasn’t hit the area yet. They’ve also managed to avoid the slicked-up, shiny, yuppie trendiness that eventually plagues rediscovered old meccas when the original people (who made it what it is in the first place) can’t afford to live there any more and have to move out, making way for the developers to roll in and turn the whole area into icky little strips of boutique-y-ness.

You can safely include Astoria in your bike travel plans, since an ample bike lane passes right through it. You’ll see the exquisite Liberty Theater, which luckily has fallen into the hands of conscientious people with taste and a sense of history. Right next to it, if you don’t blink, you’ll notice a wee coffee shop under a giant rusty coffee cup. After sticking my head in at several coffee shops while browsing around downtown, this one nabbed me off the street as the place to meet Lindi after her business meeting.

If you want warm and cozy, you want the indoor jungle of the Rusty Cup.You won’t have to worry about overcrowding, since it only holds about six people. But someone sure knew how to make the most of that space. Two postage stamp tables perch against a wall where their occupants can relax over a cup while jungle animals chew on their hair. For those needing more spreading out room, a counter along the window provides that as well as an excellent people-watching vantage point onto the street. And if people aren’t interesting enough, turn your head any which way and bask in the company of actual-size jungle friends. And I think there was also another table in a different corner but I’m not sure.

But what really sold me was, for one, that they know how to make tea. As a tea drinker, I can tell you that’s not easy to find. None of this malarkey of bringing you a glass of tepid water from a faucet and tossing you a lame teabag. (Don’t you love “malarkey”? I never thought I’d start using words like malarkey, but after about five decades, the standard b.s. words seem so done-to-death.) The tea types they offer are varied and of superb quality.

The other thing that won me over? Lindi and I could actually hear ourselves talk! And if that isn’t a rare and precious thing! Music, yes. Frenetic and loud? Not.

Why so many coffee shop owners create a place that’s impossible to relax or converse in, I have no idea. How hard is it to choose something mellow and keep down the volume? There’s no shortage of mayhem in the world and you can get it for free. Don’t be charging me money and then making me feel like I’m sitting on the yellow line in the middle of the street. (Am I ranting?) My point is, the Rusty Cup ain’t that way. Go there. You’ll be safe from the assaultive forces of western civilization.

In one of many whimsical details, the giraffe you see here is nibbling at actual plant life that has eked its way through a crack.


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