We lost a good friend last month. Wisdom Tea House, one of our local cafes, closed its doors for good after eight years of business (and a little snow). And that’s just sad.
Why am I sad? Let’s start with a quick tour of the house itself. You walk in the front door to the roomy foyer, commanded by a large hutch with dozens of tea cups – choose your own – and a welcoming kitchen where you place your order. If the scrumptious lunch items don’t tempt you, the fresh-baked goods on display certainly will. Then choose from any room in the house and pull up a chair. Perhaps the living room with the small fireplace. Or one of the upstairs sitting rooms with their small couches and comfy chairs. Your tea and cakes will be delivered no matter where you sit. This could just as easily be your grandmother’s house.
Here’s what I’ll really miss about Wisdom. You won’t see people talking on their cell phones or working away on their laptops. You won’t plop down next to a large, loud group of people gathering after work for a drink. Wisdom’s music is quiet and instrumental. The tea and coffee are served in their simplest forms (no Oprah Cinnamon Chai Tea Latte here). In sum, they created a gathering place for requiescence – a bit of rest to escape the bustle of the world beyond the windows.
As I reminisce on Wisdom, I’m sitting at Starbucks. I typically appreciate the convenience of the drive-thru, but today I’m on the inside, observing Starbuck’s brand of “gathering place”. Open floor plan. Hard surfaces. Rock music. A few high tables for two and one large low table for many. Stools at a counter facing the windows with no view to speak of. The handful of patrons I observe are to themselves, engrossed in all forms of personal electronics. The few engaged in conversation raise their voices above the music and the baristas just to be heard. It’s all just so “un-Wisdom”. But that’s Starbucks – and it works. It’s grab-n-go coffee, especially with that drive-thru lane (churning out cars so much faster than people passing through the front door). Having your coffee inside a Starbucks almost feels wrong.
A few years ago my wife and I visited Ireland for the first time.. If you’re ever in Dublin, find your way along the cobblestones to Wicklow Street (just off the wonderful Grafton Street shops), and stop into a little cafe called Gibson’s. Gibson’s is akin to Wisdom Tea House. Order at the counter (the pear tarts are a must) and choose from one of the dozen small tables just beyond. Take in the gentle ambiance and soft decor, and breathe deep. The Irish come to Gibson’s to meet and to chat; to catch a break from the fervor that is downtown Dublin. We stopped in several times during our trip and it was always the same: happy patrons engaged in quiet conversation with – at least for the moment – no cares in the world. I can still picture one particularly well-dressed gentleman a few tables over from ours, sitting alone with his coffee and reading a book. The very picture of requiescence.
Perhaps you have a Wisdom Tea House in your town. A place the locals seek out to unplug, and to spend a quiet moment or two with each other. If you are so fortunate, be regular patrons and keep your little gathering place in business. Without Wisdom, our little town has precious few places to rest. We might as well just head home instead.