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Please, Don’t Forget Me: Cafes We Have Lost

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I was born and grew up in the East Bay. We have seen a lot of change in the last ten years. A lot of great new places have opened, but we have also lost so many beloved establishments. What I covet most are the big, spacious cafes where you could sit for hours and work or do nothing — or a little of both. This piece is a love letter to the places that raised me. They haunt me in the best way possible, and I miss them like crazy.

Illustration: A man and his young daughter stroll outside of a cafe whose green and white striped facade reads, "Caffe Mediterraneum." This is the lead panel for a comic titled "Please, Don't Forget Me: Cafes We Have Lost," by Briana Loewinsohn

This panel is dated "1987." Balding father and young daughter order at the cafe counter where colorful flavored syrups are displayed in the back. The store employee is wearing a black t-shirt that says, "The Cure." "A cappuccino please," says the dad. "And a lime Italian soda, please," says the girl.

The father, wearing a green A's shirt, sits at a table in the cafe with his daughter, who looks down at her glass of soda.

The dad is now daydreaming. In a sepia-toned thought bubble he pictures the cafe as it was during the 1960s.

The daydream bubble now takes over the entire panel. Beatnik-looking types lounge in the cafe, smoking and drinking coffee. The dad in his younger days sports a big, poofy hairstyle and wears a vest over his green, 60s-style button-down.

Still in his daydream, the dad walks over to two African American men seated at another table. He daps up the one with a beard wearing a turtleneck. The other, in glasses, holds a cigarette over an ashtray.

Still in the daydream, the dad now sits next to an attractive, smiling young woman holding a cigarette between her fingers. The two appear to be flirting.

Back in the present day, the dad stares off into space. Both his coffee cup and the soda glass are now empty. Just outside the panel, the daughter says, "Dad?" "Dad, our drinks are empty."

Roused from his daydream, the dad says, "Oh. Well, let's hit the road, girl." The two are still seated in the cafe. Above them, a plaque reads, "Caffe Mediteraneum, 1956–2022"

A handwritten note reads, "The Med was a place for poets and revolutionaries. Later it was a place for college students and ex-revolutionaries. My dad loved it no matter what. He loved it in the '60s, talking about People's Park with Bobby Seale. He loved it when he dragged us to see how Telegraph Avenue fared after the Rodney King riots. He loved it because it's what he knew. Berkeley native and divorcee, why would he go anywhere else? He took us because where else could we go and just BE for a minute. Where else can you take a kid if you have them all day one Saturday a month? The Ashby Flea Market and the Med. The single dad special. I thought those murals would never ever crumble. We all did."

Title panel for a comic shows a glass of foam-topped hot chocolate and a camcorder on a table against a brick wall. The text reads, "Please, Don't Forget Me: Cafes We Have Lost" and underneath that, "Au Coquelet".

In this illustrated comic panel (labeled "1997"), we seen two teenage girls — a brunette and a blonde — through the viewfinder of a camcorder. The two girls are drawing in their sketchbooks. "Are you recording?" asks the brown-haired girl. "Yes. Tell us who the real Briana is," says the person holding the camcorder.

Still framed in the viewfinder, Briana says, "Okay. Well, Jacob — oh dang, it's...Ponytail Guy!"

A young man with a blonde ponytail and a keychain attached to his gray pants walks past the three friends' table holding a tray. Briana (in a red shirt) covers her mouth and nudges her friend.

The two girls turn their attention back to their sketchpads. The camcorder guy — wearing glasses and a brown plaid shirt — says, "Hot chocolate time?" Briana says, "And avocado cheese sandwich?" Blonde-haired girl says, "I got five on it."

Briana peers at the cafe's counter display of baked goods: biscotti in a glass jar, a linzer torte with a wedge cut out of it, the last two remaining slices of a cheesecake.

Ponytail guy and a curly red-haired employee look on from behind the counter as Briana walks away with her sandwich and hot chocolate. "Thanks!" she says. On the counter are a few scattered coins and crumpled bills.

Seen through the camcorder viewfinder again, Briana walks back to her table. Off screen, Jacob says, "Watch Briana drop all this stuff!" "I hate you," Briana says in response.

A panned out view from outside the window shows the three friends laughing and chattering away. The awning above reads, "SOUP SALADS OMEL". Underneath, a plaque reads, "Au Coquelet, 1976–2020"

A handwritten note reads, "We ended up at Au Coquelet pretty regularly because it was only a couple blocks from: Mod Lang, Comic Relief, 2am Chinese (I never learned the real name of that place), Paper Heaven, and the UC Theater. It had a lot of tables filled with people who seemed like adults. Being adults. Having adult conversations. Au Coquelet had items that felt fancy like Linzer Torte and steamed almond milk. We drifted in, settled down. Drew, made fun of each other. Made fun of other patrons. Made fun of people playing Dungeons and Dragons. Played Dungeons and Dragons. We escaped our homes, planned for life after high school. We made each other laugh. I'll miss those nights without end."

Title panel for a comic shows a green sketchpad, a pencil and a white disposable coffee cup on a round table. The text reads, "Please, Don't Forget Me: Cafes We Have Lost" and underneath that, "Gaylord's Caffe and Espresso".

In a comics panel labeled "2004," a woman wearing a similar red shirt — but older now, with shorter hair — walks into a coffee shop with a worried expression, holding a sketchpad. An older Black gentleman with a white beard sits on a bench near the entrance reading a newspaper. The lettering on the window, seen in reverse, is cut off but the visible portion reads, "GAYL...CAFFE...BREWING"

The woman — Briana as an adult — sits at a table and starts sketching. The older Black gentleman gets up to return his empty coffee cup.

2005: Now wearing a striped tank top, Briana sits in the same coffee shop but is now joined by a friend — an Asian guy wearing a "Math Olympiad" t-shirt. The two are laughing and talking as they draw. The same older Black gentleman from the previous panel sits on his bench reading the paper.

2006: The two friends are still drawing in the same coffee shop. The friend, now in a black T-shirt, waves at a man in an A's cap and orange jacket who is waving back from outside the window. Briana, now in a green shirt, says, "Bro. That's him. Don't say anything!"

2014: The two friends are drawing in the same coffee shop, now joined by a toddler who climbs onto a chair to reach a Ms. Pac-Man arcade console. "Careful, Janie Bear," says the friend, now wearing glasses, jeans, flip flops, and a different black t-shirt. The toddler, who has short pigtails, says, "Uncle Thien! It's exciiiting." Briana, busy drawing, doesn't look up as she says, "She's fine, bro."

2016: Briana stands on a stool to hang up a poster that reads, "Shirts + Prints by Thien and Briana" on the wall, probably of the same coffee shop. Holding a roll of masking tape, Thien (the friend) helps from below. A t-shirt pinned to a clothesline above depicts a man holding a bowling ball and reads, "Picture Me Bowling."

2017: Two kids — the younger one with red hair and freckles — sit in front of what appear to be cups of hot chocolate topped with giant mounds of whipped cream and sprinkles. The older sister says, "Sonny! It might be hot." Briana, older now with glasses and her hair in a bun, sits at the same table across from Thien, still drawing. "He's fine, Janie," she says.

Briana in glasses and overall shorts stands outside of the coffee shop with a sad look on her face. The sign on the door says, "CLOSED," and the window lettering now clearly reads, "Gaylord's Caffe Espresso, brewing since 1976!" A plaque overhead reads, "Gaylord's Caffe Espresso, 1976–2020."

A handwritten note reads, "I probably went to Gaylord's when I was little, but I don't remember it. When I moved back to the Bay in 2004 I had no one to draw with and nowhere to draw. Gaylord's was the spot. It had good hours and nice people. At first I drew alone, then I drew with my new bestie. We made comics and art. We lived our 20s and 30s at that cafe. I had kids, we drew, we hung our art and took it down, we were pals with the baristas and the regulars, we drew some more. And then in the early pandemic, it was closed. Without warning. We tried to buy the Ms. Pac-Man machine, but that never panned out."

Briana Loewinsohn is an American cartoonist. These days she teaches high school art and draws comic books. She is the author of the acclaimed graphic memoir EPHEMERA. She lives in Oakland with her husband, daughter and son. If she doesn’t text you back, she is probably gardening.

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