Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Remembering Cafe Coco

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Cafe Coco Nashville

After some 27 years of business Cafe Coco is closing, to be reopened as one of Coco’s Italian Markets. Writing for the Nashville Post, William Williams succinctly summarizes the coffee shop/bar/restaurant/hang as “a Midtown institution of sorts popular with Vanderbilt students, health care workers and random bohemians and hipsters.” Owner Chuck Cinelli broke the news on an April 30th Facebook post,

“With the new normal that we are all facing, we in the restaurant industry are being forced to take a hard look at our business and see how we can adapt successfully for the new era. That, combined with the changing landscape of Nashville has given me an opportunity to evolve this business. It’s time, as they say in Italy, to bring Cafe Coco ‘into the family’.

With that in mind, we will be saying goodbye to Cafe Coco and will be opening under a new name and concept, an Italian fast service cafe and market with a focus on great products, take away, local delivery and Italian catering trays.

And, while we won’t be a music venue anymore, we hope to be your new go to place for great Italian market products, fresh produce, house ground coffee and homemade Italian dishes, made with recipes that go back in my family for generations. I hope you’ll show our new offering the same love you’ve always shown for Coco’s.”

Cafe Coco’s website already forwards to the Italian Market page, and life keeps moving on, but I wanted to pause to reflect on what that space was to me, or maybe what I felt it represented.

I moved to Nashville about a decade ago but didn’t really begin to frequent Coco until 2012 when I started going to the 202 clubhouse, located across the street, separated by a parking lot. I remember the day I landed over there because it was the same day that I got my hair cut for the first time in well over a year. I was in rough shape, drying out, sweating, nervous, and exactly where I needed to be at that time. And across the street was Cafe Coco, where you could sit and just have a cup of water out on their patio, or a cheap cup of coffee and not feel like there was any urgency to be on your way when the cup was empty. Cafe Coco was a weird little dingy house with sticky floors that surely wasn’t well suited to be a coffee shop, but by the same measure it was exactly what it needed to be.

The Nashville Scene has had a link to Sean Maloney’s 2009 article “A diverse group of performers is fueling a vibrant, counterintuitive hip-hop subculture at Cafe Coco” on its front page this past week. With the time capsule piece Maloney did a really good job in explaining what Cafe Coco meant to the scene:

“The rap scene at Coco is a blend of insolence, introspection, conversation and philosophy that, frankly, isn’t going to happen just anywhere. Where the hip-hop concert industry and its subgenre cottage industries are stratified in a some pretty odd permutations, the Cafe Coco scene is a complex clique that doesn’t run up and scream, ‘We’re gonna bring in a gazillion people and make you a shit ton of money.’ But that doesn’t mean you should underestimate them.”

When I first moved to Nashville I had no idea what to expect with the music scene, but it was still a little disheartening to hear first hand accounts from those involved in it speaking to how rap and hip hop had never had consistent support in town. It’s with a slight sense of shame that I never attended a show there, but a big part of what of Cafe Coco began to represent to me was tied to its openness to using its back room as a stage for those in town who weren’t otherwise given much of a platform. That means something.

Over the years I’ve made a lot of memories in that space but it wasn’t until the news came of its closure that I really stopped to think about them. Birthday parties, coffee meet-ups, dates, so many creative-type meetups for ideas that never got off the ground, hangs before or after Exit/In shows or hookah at Aladdin’s… While Cafe Coco has been steadily updating its business model the past couple years—modifying its menu, hours of operations, etc.—the abrupt transition from what it was to what it will be represents the loss of something bigger to me. Cafe Coco was a safe space in a city desperately in need of safe spaces. It’ll be missed.