Writers’ Spaces is a series that reviews — you guessed it — spaces for writers. Whether writing is your lifeblood or you got stuck in Intro to Fiction, check out the best (and worst) places to practice your craft.
So obviously its location wasn’t doing it any favors, was it? Poor little Café Mud, situated as it was just beyond the foot traffic of Maple Street’s commercial nexus and—sort of metaphorically—safety, has died.
Its death—again as something of a metaphor here—was the untimely result of health code violations filed by the city of Evanston in October. Now, we who are left to mourn Café Mud’s passing are probably doing so in the same way we visited it (if indeed we ever visited it at all). This is to say: not without a sense of irony.
Let’s agree that the name was probably ill-advised, at least from a business standpoint. I’m referring specifically to the image the name evokes (mud), and where that image ranks—quite low—on the list of things I generally prefer to be thinking about before I buy a cup of coffee.
In the tragically appropriate case of Mud, the name seems to have vaguely inspired its coffee drinks: grainy (dare I, chunky) concoctions brewed not with tap water, but rain. Industrial-rain-cloud-type rain. And they are coffee drinks mind you, as opposed to just coffee, which isn’t on the menu. On my first visit I settled for an Americano, feeling perhaps extra patriotic in the face of the Eastern European proprietor staring me down.
He kept his eye on me like you might keep an eye on a precocious and rather bothersome Bassett Hound who, as a rule, the moment you turn away, will dissect the kitchen garbage bag without prejudice. In this way he kept his eye on me while he pulled the levers which, with a chorus of fecal spurts, produced my beverage. He looked away only as I proffered my debit card. He then politely informed it (not me) that he would only accept cash.
So then there I was, sprinting southward on Maple in hot pursuit of an ATM. Once I found one and secured my cash, I jogged back to Mud, hale and rosy-cheeked. The Eastern European proprietor, upon receipt of said cash, pushed before me the Americano he had made several minutes prior and smiled.
Well, you understandably inquire, how warm was it?
Luke, I reply with zip.
On my second trip to Mud, I went to write. Brainstorm I guess would be more accurate. I kind of tip-toed inside after an admittedly ‘normal-hours’ excursion to After Hours and temporarily elected to forego a drink. Permit me to say that the atmosphere was really terrific. It felt good in there, or comfortable, for some reason. The urban-chic, brick interior handsomely complemented the seating options ranging from new-age table-and-chair combo to woven basket. The cushioned seats were billowing marshmallowy reservoirs of comfort.
And I would’ve accomplished quite a bit more if not for the band of bearded bespectacled board-gamers and a goofy-looking journalist in formfitting jeans profiling them. It seemed like every time I tried to write something down, I overheard another proclamation regarding the house rules for “Settlers of Catan.”
The last time I went there, I never made it inside. A woman appeared to be guarding the door when I approached. She shooed me away with an accent.
I thought you were open, was what I managed.
We will be, she assured me. Could be five minutes. Could be an hour.
Could be an hour? I had no choice but to once again consider the likelihood of torture-style mafia violence in the basement. It was about this time that I hypothesized that Café Mud was merely a front for the nucleus of some Chicago-based Eastern European cockfighting ring or something.
I walked by Mud one last time before Christmas break. A friend had told me about the Yellow Sign he saw plastered on the front door and encouraged me to see for myself. Donned in black, armed with Kleenex, I anguished and lamented in private and then proceeded devoutly down Maple to pay my respects.