For a New Year’s Eve bash it was more of a wake.
Tears flowed with the espresso as midnight struck a bittersweet chord inside cavernous Java Junky’s, 221 N. Division.
The usual diverse gang of street kids, gays, punks, straights and neo-beatniks came to not only ring out 1995, but to say a sad so long to their famed coffee bar hangout.
Java Junky’s - Spokane’s only all-night coffee house that spawned the city’s teen caffeine craze - closed for keeps Monday morning.
Co-owner Paul Brown, 34, blames the closure on economics: a rent hike, a drop in business and some $30,000 in medical bills from his 1994 bout with thyroid cancer.
An official at the Washington Department of Revenue says Java Junky’s troubles are a bit more than that.
The department filed a tax warrant last November against Brown and his partner, Edward Schnider, seeking $10,957.82 in unpaid sales taxes and penalties. Brown says he has a payment plan to take care of the delinquent bill.
But as much as anything, the failure of Java Junky’s is due to the passing of the espresso-as-counter-culture movement.
The latte is no longer the symbolic stimulant of latter-day Bohemians. Espresso is now the mainstream fuel of office workers and mothers on the run.
Nothing takes the hipness out of a fad faster than when the establishment wraps its loving arms around it.
That, of course, doesn’t make the demise of Java Junky’s any easier for the faithful.
“This has been a second home and a second family,” says a mournful guy dressed in funereal black, from his fish-net shirt to the bandana tied around his head.
Anita Tooke, a young woman with nose and navel rings, sat at one of the round spool tables commiserating with her friend, Heather Bible. “I sat in the back for a while and cried,” says Tooke. “The worst part is that the street kids won’t have anywhere to go.”
Bible and husband David poured their sweat into Java Junky’s. The couple helped renovate the 3,000-square-foot former second-hand clothing store on Division after the coffee bar fled its original cramped location at First and Monroe.
“We held our wedding reception here,” says Bible.
A cool clubhouse atmosphere made funky Java Junky’s vastly different from the myriad of stop-and-go espresso stations. This was a place where anyone of any persuasion could come at any hour to smoke a cigarette, write poetry, talk politics or play chess.
“I once played penny-ante poker with an Aryan Nation’s guy, a Jewish guy, a guy with blue hair, a gay guy and a bisexual guy,” says Jeremy Davis, another regular. “Where else could you find that?”
Creating this oasis of acceptance was Brown’s goal when he opened Java Junky’s in March 1993. Within days, droves of disaffected teenagers were hanging around First and Monroe at all hours of the day and night.
The kids were mostly peaceful, but their flannel-clad presence frightened fuss-bucket shop owners.
Their complaints forced Java Junky’s to move to the low-rent district, which added some unexpected headaches. A murder at an adjoining flophouse and two nearby fires, Brown says, didn’t do a thing for business.
These latter-day Bohemians weren’t the problem. “There was never any vandalism. Nothing was ever stolen,” says Brown, who was recently hired as a case worker for Job Resource Center.
Brown laughs with wonder at getting such a great new job. “I have a key to my own restroom. Does this make me Yuppie scum?”
On New Year’s Day the party was over. Brown gave the go-ahead to sell off Java Junky’s coffee bean grinders. “Maybe I’m not a very good businessman,” says Brown. “But, you know, I wouldn’t trade these last three years for the world.”