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.