there goes joe caparo again


Here in Venice, there’s this great place called Abbot’s Habit on Abbot Kinney Blvd, about three blocks away. They serve great soy lattés, have a fairly adventurous lunch menu, and is the hanging spot for a huge demographic of beach people, from 16-year-old skate punks to successful TV writers punching out scripts and surfing the wireless. At night, bands play, the open mic abounds, and the place stays electric.

The level of beauty – both male and female – that streams through the place is unfathomable. Like they said in “Swingers,” Los Angeles skims the top .01% of the gene pool and places them all here. I got in because my wife is hot and Lucy, well, she’s awful damned cute too.

I remarked that I really miss a place like this, and there is nothing, even in Chapel Hill, that comes close. Tessa promptly reminded me of two NC places that defined our generation at the time: The Columbia Street Bakery and the Hardback Café. It had been so long since I’d thought about them that they almost ceased to exist, but then memories flooded my brain.


flyer for early Shinola show at Columbia St., 1993

I think you’d have to go back to the left bank of 1920s Paris or a bustling head shop in 1960s Haight to reach the level of artistic and social sophistication that the Hardback and Columbia Street Bakery had to offer. The two venues faced each other across the street, and it was an enviable nexus. Bands formed in booths, girls on the open mic became legends overnight, plans were hatched, road trips were begun, my friends and I plotted world domination, and the funniest stories ever were told.

The places had their quirks: the owner of Columbia St. had this insane dictatorial rule about how much salt should be in each shaker (leading to mass firings) and the Hardback seemed allergic to making money. But that was probably the last time I ever subscribed to a commune that I didn’t have to recreate. It was so awesome that execs from a major network came down to see if they could pitch a show based on the Hardback.


the day after the Hardback closed, people posted their goodbyes

We should have known then it was all over. A few months after the TV rumor, the Hardback shut its doors, and weeks later so did the Columbia Street Bakery. They were replaced by other venues: Martha’s Muffins, The Lizard and Snake, but now, even businesses that were the fifth replacement have come and gone. The last time I noticed, there was a Jersey Mike’s sub shop chain and a discount sushi place there, I think. I dunno, I was too bored.

Perhaps Ben Folds said it best when he wrote about our pal Summer Burkes:

…the Hardback Café closed down

Now we got Office Town

You shoulda stuck around.

19 thoughts on “there goes joe caparo again

  1. Salem

    You and Tessa need to create an undergrad and graduate level class that teaches and facilitates the “pairing up” of creatives and analyst/manager types. Sadly, these two wouldn’t share a stadium together at their most prolific stage, but by the time they are in their mid thirties they have either paired up or parished. A brilliant professor could coach these types on the importance of and how to make these relationships work. We are taught to focus on our weaknesses from the first day of school, only to emerge 16 years later with a well developed set of weaknesses. If you teach these two groups how to communicate they can focus on their strengths and there will be a Hardback Cafe on every campus that never turns into a Subway franchise.

  2. furious

    Would you cut it out, Ian? Now I am on this totally depressed nostalgic kick. My partner and I always debate about why the college town we live in is not Chapel Hill. He points out that we’d have a better shot if our university had not been a military school, but the truth is places like Hardback and Columbia Street just would not ever even open doors here.

  3. cullen

    On a ladies’ break from a circa September, 1990-esque UNC Chamber Singers rehearsal, the ever-creative Summer Burkes whipped up a caricature of me, a toiling falsetto tenor in sandals.
    I came to that ensemble from the Woolen Oven, so I was usually atleast partially perspiring, smelly, and dressed in gym clothes, thus the title of her cartoon piece, a scrap I’ve never thrown away.
    ‘summer birks and Cullen’s quirks’
    O.C. is really for Orange County, NC BTW.

  4. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Ian, you and your little family are “So Money!”
    You really are the archivist of epic proportions.

  5. Joanna

    In the same vein, I recall this scrawled on a local bathroom wall, “The Intimate Bookshop burns. Miami Subs stands. There is no God.”

  6. kevin

    I loved Jamie at hardback. She helped me meet my wife.
    The Intimate.. I opened a bike store in the one in raleigh. Wallace Kuralt made me promise to keep the hardwood floors. We did.. a few years later we had to vacate the place. Of course, the next folks thought grey carpet was better.

  7. Andy

    I always loved performing in both of those places. I found out later, though, that some of the staff at the Hardback despised Selected Hilarity because our audience was cheap. Alas…

  8. cl

    I’ll sign up for that class, Salem.
    Hey, there must be a place like that in New York, although most of the cafes get overcrowded.

  9. caveman

    please tell me skylight exchange still stands, best sandwiches and used charlie price albums in chapel hill

  10. craighill

    as of a few months ago, skylight was still serving “tom’s turkey”, “smilin’ roast beef” and the best sandwich name of all time— the “which came first” (chicken salad and egg salad)

  11. Joe C.

    You certainly don’t see that kind of sophistication down in Alabama or Mississippi, all you see down there is Walmart and redneck GOP’ers in their trailers.

  12. eric g.

    Another Skylight favorite was the Hudson River (peanut butter and bacon-mmm). Today’s post made me remember afternoons spent playing chess with Ryan Balot at Columbia Street (and getting my ass kicked) back when it seemed like summer days in Chapel Hill would never end. I had heard about the Hardback’s demise, but finding out that Columbia Street is long-gone too is depressing.

  13. suzanne

    Columbia Street Bakery helped me realize my lesbian self. I drank coffee there for hours as an undergrad, chatting with friends or pretending to study and “be” a lesbian, waiting for the girl of my dreams to walk up the ramp and into my life. I usually left with coffee buzz shakes and and the hope that, maybe tomorrow I’ll meet her…ahhh…

  14. lee

    little did you know, you already knew me!!
    but i hung out at hardback since columbia street was all lesbian.

  15. Annie

    I fondly remember the summer of 1990, my first in Chapel Hill, when I worked the opening shift at CSB. Though I was not laid-back at the time at all, the other people who worked there were, so I had a pretty decent summer–despite navigating amongst many private manias, the dumbest of which was having decided to deny myself coffee the whole time I worked there (it was all about self-control back then…)
    I was too much of a dorbus at that point to patronize the Hardback, but the brief and shining life of the Lizard and Snake (god bless its reptilian soul!) righted that wrong a few years later.
    Let’s all pause and say a prayer for Pepper’s Pizza, still going strong after 18 years!!!

  16. Annie

    Did y’all all know that Caparo finally learned how to drive? We don’t see him downtown so much anymore.

  17. eric g.

    I think Chip will back me up on this: Pepper’s pizza has the best ice in the world. It’s perfectly crushed, and turns an ordinary fountain drink into a day-brightening experience.

  18. lee

    i remember liking Suttons ice a lot! but i def liked peppers, too.
    remember when peppers opened and you could write on the walls??

  19. cullen

    Ditto Annie on the Pepper’s Pizza shout-out, and a cyber-de-javu on that crusty convo plus I never knew you even worked at Columbia Street. I never paid for, ate or drank anything there despite logging significant hours at its, uh, stools and urinal(s). But heck, I remember when I was sentimental for places like the friggin’ RAThskeller, lo those glorious summers ee-Ions ago when haunting the hill for UNC basketball camp, its tshirt worn w/pride right into the ground.
    Most props too for Skylight (the right (lite) bright Idea) EcxstChSTrange.
    “Carolina Moon, I’m pining……” Thanx alot redhead Ned.

  20. eric g.

    yeah, i remember when peppers’ walls were fair game. i was in a creative writing class with elizabeth spencer (i think tessa might’ve been in that class, come to think of it) and some guy in our class painted a mural on the wall of the back room of pepper’s and we had a class in there one day to celebrate his achievement.

  21. Just Andrew

    I miss the Hardback as well – I ran into one of the bartenders there a couple years back – Alvis – when he’s not doing research in Central America or teaching at Guilford, he can be found bartending at the OCSC, quite the hip(ster) joint.
    Thank God the Cave hasn’t changed – owned by Mouse now, hopefully for many more years to come.

  22. Kmeelyon

    Sigh. I remember those places. I actually worked at Columbia Street Bakery between 1989 and 1991. I have no recollection of Tim’s salt shaker issues (but thankfully, I wasn’t fired). I am still in sporadic touch with a handful of ex CSB co-workers. I remember going back to Chapel Hill in 1993 or so and feeling like it was sacrilegious that Columbia Street had started serving beer. I remember it being a hangout for a lot of 12-steppers at the time I was hanging out and working there.

  23. Annie

    Just curious: Did you work at CSB with moi? With Tracey Lee, Pat, Liz/Zil, Dana, etc? And does your real name strat with the same letter (and contain almost the exact same letters) as your ‘comments’ name? Just curious.

  24. Kmeelyon

    Yep, yep, it’s me! It’s me! If you want to reminisce some more, you can email me at this name at that google email place.

  25. Valerie

    Hey Ian, don’t even know how I found this blog — I’ve never read it before; but you just made me awful homesick. Went back to Chapel Hill for the first time in ages about 2 years ago — everything was different, but I still ended up smoking cigarettes (quit 6 years before) and drunkenly proclaiming my intention to move back to my bewildered husband. We didn’t of course; still in SF.

  26. alvis

    Eleven years since the Hardback went down. Town’s not really been the same since. Pyewacket’s gone now too and Henry’s is Fuse.
    I remember y’all crazed CSB folk…taking winter cigarette breaks in the HB. People used to complain to us about the smoke…we’d point across the street and tell them that was our no smoking section. Y’all actually made a gigantic Xmas card for us one year…”To our smoking section…love CSB.”
    Link to a pic of an early ad:
    Check out the floor in this one (and the artist of course):
    Hey Andrew…alvis


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