On Saturday the 17th of January a piece of my life closed its doors for the last time. Serving its last few cups of coffee in loving Paris manner it announced Friday “tonight we have wine, tomorrow we have coffee, and then we say goodbye”. After opening 1986, Paris on the Platte, coffee shop and wine bar, spent the next twenty years stealing the heart and habits of anyone within reach. Its final night and day the place was jammed, packed with friends and family who had come to pay their respects.
We have all had places that we associate with certain parts of our lives. They fill a void, serving a purpose (or several), for a period of time. I for one will never forget Nick and Willies, a take-n-bake pizza place that my mom stopped at every Friday (along with a rental movie) when I was a kid. I eventually made a career out of Italian food with an emphasis on pizza. It has been so long since I’ve had a Nick and Willies Pizza that I could not tell you with any certainty whether or not it was a quality pizza. I can however, tell you with total certainty that in my memory they were some of the most fantastic slices I have ever eaten. These restaurants and shops engrain themselves into our lives. Their memory stays vivid even as they drift out of our lives. We look back fondly on the dive bar down the street when we first became of age, or of the all night coffee shop we spent those late sleepless nights while in school. These spots serve a vital purpose in the fabric of our lives.
Paris on the Platte was such a place for me. I first discovered Paris when I was seventeen or eighteen years old. I was a freshman at University of Colorado Boulder, an endeavor I never completed. At nights you could find me, however, in the back room of the coffee shop. It was a small room with hard wood floors and exposed brick walls. Raised a few feet above the main dining room it was consumed by one single enormous square table. Paris was spelled in white on a large black barn door. At least that’s what we figured it was, in truth I never really had any idea. The air was constantly hazy as smoking was allowed and the room was always filled with an odd assortment of artists, punks, hipsters and nerds. It was an atmosphere that greatly validated the self indulgent, angsty, bohiemian mind set of my adolescence. I spent many nights back there, doing homework or huddled in a corner talking rapidly to my friends as we consumed pot after pot of Paris’s five dollar pots of coffee.
Many years later, after being a part of a failed Italian, wine driven concept, I moved to Denver, joining the Platte St neighborhood with my tail planted firmly between my legs. Over years the neighborhood had grown and changed so much that I didn’t recognize it as I unloaded my Uhaul in total exhaustion. The cross streets never accuring to me, I was almost floored when a day or two later I ventured across the street in search of a local libation only to stumble into the favorite coffee shop of my angsty years. It had, at this point, expanded to include a wine bar. A re-kindled love was imminent. An icon of my adolescence had, during the years I poured my heart into a wine centric restaurant, added a wine bar and with perfect timing and grace reappeared at the exact time that I slipped back into angst.
Many of my nights were spent sitting in the Paris bar, surrounded by neighbors and friends. Quirky local art filled the walls that surrounded the small, long bar. Rickety chairs and tables provided odd shadows in the dark bar. The bartender seemed to know every face and bounced around from group to group providing drinks as well as bent ear. Faye the owner (if I got of work early enough) would be lingering between the coffee side and the bar, always with a kind, almost parental word.
Summer nights would find us on Paris’s patio. Although it was little more than a fenced enclosure in a parking lot (bordering the highway, no less) it somehow never felt that way. Two small warn out metal tables supported coffee cans full of sand and cigarette butts (smoking was no longer permitted inside). A Russian Olive tree full of Christmas lights hunched over almost vertically adding to the glow of the highway and the street lights. Entire nights would disappear arguing with a Ukrainian regular. The Ukrainian, a middle aged owner of an eyeglass store in Cherry Creek, we would talk late into the night, pausing to mutter natstrovia under our breath as vodka after vodka disappeared.
Paris was always there for the good nights and the bad nights. I’ll never forget the night I met someone who would turn out to be, despite my best efforts, one of my closest friends. I had just received news that one of my former roommates had taken his own life and had spent several hours at a pub with old friends turning money into whiskey. The streetlights of Platte glowed as we stumbled in the direction of my apartment. Not willing to be left with our thoughts we stumbled into Paris. The bar was empty as it was fairly late for Monday night, save for a woman sitting alone in the corning.
Wandering in I took a seat next to her. She had striking grey blue eyes and a smile that seemed somehow amused by your existence. When she smiled it was as if she was complimenting you and mocking you simultaneously. I ordered a shot of Makers Mark Bourbon stating with the kind of boldness that only severe alcohol consumption can muster that I would take two if she’d have one with me. She laughed saying that she wasn’t so much wanting bourbon but that she would do a Fernet with me. Fernet is an extremely bitter, extremely abrasive Italian amaro that ninety percent of pallets loathe but that my years in Italian dining had left me hopelessly in love with. A bottle and a pair of shot glasses appeared at the same time that my roommate, taking my cue, disappeared with our friends. Although I struck out royally, to the best of my recollection, that bottle never again saw the light of day.
Such was the nature of Paris, that seemed to always be there, a cog that my life rotated around. Morning after morning I would stop by for a cup of coffee and breakfast. Exchanging pleasantries, small talk and hang over remorse with the baristas until familiarity over came us. They knew all of my work woes, weekend projects and my dating disasters just as I greeted their boyfriends warmly by name and new the status of that latest paper (you know, the one that’s a total pain in the ass). As I swung in an out on those early mornings Faye (the owner) was always there to laugh, shake her head at me, and tell me to put on a jacket.
We never know when something unexpected will come into our lives and stick. Running congruently into the fabric of our lives, these things connect our memories even if we don’t necessarily realize it right away. As time passes they become a part of our experience and begin to serve a purpose. It may be a purpose we realize or it may be a purpose we don’t. Paris will always be a part of my memories and my stories. Just as that take-n-bake pizza brought my family together on Friday nights in my youth, so Paris was to my transition from adolescence to adult hood. Always there, providing a safe backdrop to my journey, I will forever remember the warmth of its walls, the cheer of its bar and the familiarity of its coffee counter. And I will certainly always remember to wear my jacket.