My favorite coffee shop in southern Illinois is Longbranch in Carbondale. Well it used to be, or maybe it still is by default. I don’t know. It’s different. It’s a very different place that I fell in love with back in high school. I know I’ve changed in the past 20 years, but my tastes on coffee shops hasn’t.
Basically, what was once a coffee shop or “coffeehouse” as Longbranch puts it, is now a vegetarian cafe. It’s not like Longbranch is doing a bait and switch, it says “vegetarian cafe” right on their sign.
Back on 1993 or 1994 when my friends first started going to Longbranch, it was dark with candles in the tables, a bookcase of tattered paperbacks and board games, a big long table down the middle and cigarette smoke hung I. The air. I felt so grownup and sophisticated going there, talking politics and music with my friends while being surrounded by college students.
Back then the back room was a vintage clothing store. It was always dark and seemed weird and boring and a bit disturbing and pointless, so I never went in there. I still hold those thoughts about used clothing store.
Years later, the clothing store moved into the building directly behind Longbranch and the back room became the quiet smoke free section with table service for the kitchen that served quesadillas and vegetarian pizzas, and hosted open mic nights on a tiny stage. The was a big difference between the front and back rooms. The front kept its smokey and funky mystique, while the back was bright and more subdued.
Eventually, Illinois passed a law banning smoking in all restaurants &endash; which from a public health perspective is for the best &endash; and that hurt the ambiance for me, I was in the minority for thinking that back then, but I still think it. I’m sure the smoking ban changed the clientele. I know many people stayed away from the Longbranch because the didn’t want to brave the smoke to place their order. (It was a bit strange to have the smoking section in the front, but that’s how they rolled back then.)
I think it was in the early aughts when Longbranch remodeled and expanded rand reoriented the bar and expanded the kitchen. They got rid of the last recliner and couch and brought in little metal cafe tables and chairs. I think that’s around the time they started billing themselves as a cafe too. It’s probably better for business, but it’s just not the same.
It’s just not interesting to watch people eat faking’ bacon BLTs, and waiters asking if anyone meeds something. Maybe it’s because I only come back when school is out and so no one is here (Probably. Hopefully.), but this place has no appeal to me anymore except nostalgia for place that is both here and not here.
Oh well. At least Cafe Pergolessi still exists.