January 14, 2006

The Little Things

Two of those little low-key institutions that make Berkeley Berkeley (without drawing attention to themselves or coming to mind when someone says "Berkeley") went out of business over the holidays. I've been going to both places regularly for at least fifteen years; both of them were those sort of taken-for-granted backdrops to a life that you mostly notice in their absence.

Panache was just a place to get my hair cut, up on Telegraph near Bancroft. But it was full of workers like Tito, who eventually made me watch "Black Orpheus", for which I'm really grateful: a nice mix of staff with the style and humour and character you tend to associate with the non-student non-Grownup bits of Berkeley. Some of them had cut my hair for a decade or more; most of them were unsure where they'd work once Panache closed. There'd been plans to move to a new location around the corner on Bancroft, but that fell through at the last moment; there's a sign on the empty shop front saying they hope to be back sometime somewhere….

Firenze was the Shattuck (Downtown) outpost of the local Roma coffee shop / cheap cafe empire, the dingy down-at-heels Cinderella to its more glamourous sisters the Roma, the Milano, etc. I ate breakfast — a giant capuccino and a poppy-seed bagel (toasted with cheese) — there pretty much every Saturday morning since the late 1980's. It was the sort of place instinctively shunned by students and weekend shoppers: bad decor, too much dirt on the floors, old grime-covered California tourist posters (St Ansel!) on the walls up near the (high) ceilings, a haphazard collection of periodic Bad Local Art displays around the walls at eye level, and an always slightly-distorted and poorly-tuned radio playing crappy classical music in the background. I loved it: it was resolutely unhip, the coffee and food were good (as far as they went), the staff friendly, and it was no threat to Starbucks in any way. Unlike Panache (whose manager had told me it was closing months before it finally closed), Firenze just suddenly shut up shop one day and disappeared, with a note on the door saying they'd been evicted.

Both places were displaced due to huge rent increases; I'd guess both of them will be replaced by cell phone shops or (yet another) Starbucks or whatever. Life goes on — a little diminished.


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