Café Coco is a coffee house in Nashville, originally called "Elliston Place Café" and then "Café Elliston". It sits nestled in the back of a road called Elliston Place, Elliston and Louise Ave, right off West End Blvd and caters (literally, it caters, too) to every walk of human life imaginable. Punks, goths, glams, Vandy Bunnies/Biffs, preps, nerds, techno geeks, musicians, writers, artists, business people, investors, freaks... you name it, you can probably find it at Café Coco.

My personal introduction to the place was back in late 1996, shortly after I'd moved in with my cousin, Faizi. Faizi was an aspiring artist and at the time he was doing a joint art show with another person (whom I later ended up dating- and later learned that you never date Cafe Coco people, otherwise known as CocoNuts). From the first time I stepped into the place, I liked it. Quiet jazz was playing on the speakers that had been discretly placed throughout the shop, people were standing around and smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, others were sitting at coffee tables and enjoying idle conversation or playing chess... it was like... I'd found a home, a place to belong. If you had thirty piercings, wore multi-colored clothing and tattoos were proudly shown all over your body, the most you'd get was a quick glance from a stranger, but mostly everyone there was accepted (or tolerated at the very least). Conversely, if you were a student with books to read, it's an implied and unwritten rule that you be left alone to do your thing. "Live and let live" should be the motto of Café Coco.

Since then I've been hanging out at Café Coco almost religiously (close to 5 nights a week). For the first year I sat back and just watched people, listening to various conversations and making note of the "regulars" who seemed to have free run there. I was a recognizeable face, but no one seemed to know my name or why I was there... but no one bothered me, either, which was nice. Sometimes I'd bring a notepad with me and write on a story or enjoy the company of a friend, but I rarely said or did anything to bring attention to myself. It was my place to be "away."

Things have changed, though. People know who I am, they know my name and face as well as they know their own family members. And some people there treat each other like family members. Occasionally there's a squabble or two, what we call "drama", or even some pretty nasty arguments... but it's a very, very odd thing to see actual fights or disunity there. Awnings have been put up, benches installed, the smoking section has been moved and reduced a 10x10 room, the back porch is open once again... and the name's been changed more times than I've changed my own name over the years. But through it all, people have stuck, customers continue to come in and pay $1.40 for the first cup o' joe and 60¢ for a refill.

Open 24/7, Café Coco represents something uniquely American: The Capitalist/Anarchist Melting Pot Society. I was raised and brought up in an environment where people of all nationalities, races, religions, ideologies and whatnot were welcomed with open arms. Café Coco is much the same- you're more than welcome provided you pay for something as simple as a cup of coffee and don't cause trouble. I've heard stories of people getting banned from the place, but from what I hear you have to really screw up to get banned. Mistakes are forgiven, impropriety is not.

Best times to go there are variable, depending on what you like. Me? I prefer any night visit there. On the weekends, Friday and Saturday, you can expect the place to be hopping with business- and a line a mile long. During the week, though, you can usually go there at any time and not have to wait longer than, at the most, 10 minutes in line to make your order. Oh, that's right! Food! Fine Italian dishes and health-conscious plates, greasy sandwiches, desserts galore, appetizers... even breakfast can be had there. Whatever you're looking for in the way of benign human social interaction, you can and likely will find it at Café Coco.

In my day, Cafe Coco was Cafe Elliston but we called it "Ellistonia.” Quite often it was known by its true name "The Vortex." That, of course, was before the reign of Coco. Before we were Coco-dependent, we lived in Chuck Cinelli's odd but exciting world. The glory days – ladies and gentlemen. One could wander from room to room, from ratty couch to broken chair with a clove in one hand and a beer in the other. Greg Garing and Paul Deacon (of the Mavericks) lived upstairs and beautiful unearthly bluegrass and western music could be heard floating down from the back porch on the more peaceful nights. (And yes, the smell of grass wafting through the windows as well.) I would go every night around 8. Back in those days the regular bar tenders were Ashton and Randy. Those two were great. Before the bar had become all filled with muffins and cookies and fancy tea, you could actually pull up a bar stool, light a smoke and talk to the other regulars right there. I had my own stool and my own mug. They used to let you keep your own mug there.

Such a parade of interesting people! Actors, photographers, gardeners, healers, psychics,comic book illustrators, teachers, students, psychos, dancers, politicians – all with one thing in common – broke. Almost no one with money was a true regular. Sure – people might stop in to see how the simple freaks lived from time to time – but it was a place to spend 2 bucks on coffee and make it last the night and then drive home in your crappy piece of automobile on an empty tank of gas before the sun rose. My parents hated it. ‘Nuff said.

My younger brothers hang out there now. I go back from time to time when I am in town. It has changed too much for me. The front yard is gone – the smokers are all crammed in one little room. The women’s lounge was destroyed for a bigger kitchen. I still see Tiwana – the resident cop. Ray still runs around – it’s always good to see the Fabulous Ray. But the rooms are filled with strangers who are quite happy in their world of Coco. Not knowing what a fantastic and free environment had been there before. Marriage changes everything doesn’t it, Chuck?

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