The Tea Lounge, my daily writing spot since May, closed three days ago. I have many feelings about this.
The predominant one is heartbreak. For the past seven months, the Tea Lounge–a unique, cavernous-yet-cozy spot that’s been in Park Slope, Brooklyn since 2000–had become, for all intents and purposes, my office. It’s where I wrote most of my second book, as well as all these recent blog posts.
In the past couple months, I’d begun to experience something there that I’d always dreamed of: the phenomenon of being a regular. I’d tried to make that happen at various spots during the writing of my first book, but it had never taken. (This is partially because one of the main spots where I wrote the first book was the Lenny’s in Hell’s Kitchen. Don’t judge, it has a great room in the back, which possesses three key features that I look for in a writing space: nobody bothers you for staying too long, there are always interesting characters around, and it’s not the place where I live.)
But with the Tea Lounge—which, it’s worth noting, has the aforementioned key features in spades—it had started to take. As of the past few months, the people who worked there knew I drank tea, not coffee. I was often that annoying guy at the counter having jokey conversations with the staff, and it felt so good. I developed a friendship with another regular, a charming 40-something dude named Caio, who’s working on a complex cinematic installation based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges. “This place is my Cheers, you know?” Caio said to me once, gesturing at the room around us, and I nodded along, realizing at that moment: This place is my Cheers, too, Caio!
Granted, that was never completely true. I was endeared to a lot of the regulars—the bald dude with a mustache and glasses who always sat reading the paper for a couple hours in the same armchair, the older woman who would spread out a bunch of essays in front of her (to grade, I think?), the sharply-dressed guy who wore a fedora and stared at blueprints on his computer—but my awkward attempts at a daily “Hi” and a nod were often left unreciprocated. Which was okay with me! These people were doing their thing, just like I was, and it was comfort enough to know I was going to see them every day.
But all of that became moot last Thursday, when I learned my sort-of Cheers would be closing in four days.
It didn’t help that the day before, my wife and I had learned that ‘Snice, a vegan café that was one of our favorite places to eat, had been shut down indefinitely for failing its sanitation inspection. Apparently the place had mice and roughly eight different species of flies roaming around. Cool!
So one day ‘Snice is gone, the next day the Tea Lounge.
And that Thursday afternoon, grasping for some stability, I sat in the soon-to-be extinct Tea Lounge and called my doctor’s office to schedule a yearly physical. “I’m sorry,” the receptionist said, explaining that my primary care physician would be leaving the practice next week.
WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING?
Look, I know it’s a luxury to deal with problems like these, to even call them problems, but that didn’t make the sudden disappearance within two days of three regular fixtures in my life any less strange. It felt like a message from the universe that I couldn’t quite decode.
Maybe the message was simply this: things change. All the time.
The reason heartbreak was the predominant feeling in this Tea Lounge saga, rather than the only feeling, is because in my Googling about what had happened, I stumbled upon this article. The owner of the Tea Lounge blames its demise on freeloaders who buy a cup of coffee and then stay there all day to write their novel i.e., people like me. “I’m running a business, not a community center,” he says.
This was the most confusing, infuriating thing in the world to read. What a twist, you guys: I’m mourning the loss of my beloved home away from home, and it turns out the one who killed it was ME!
Except, unfortunately, I can’t accept that as the truth (and not just because I bought salads occasionally). The owner speaks as if the freeloaders (AKA his most loyal customers who have each given him hundreds of dollars) were holding him hostage, as if he’s not the one who can run his shop however he wants. He raised the prices in late summer, and though I was annoyed for a second, I was happy to pay that because I understood he needed to stay in business. If he wanted to set up some kind of Argo-Tea-style one-purchase-gets-you-two-hours-of-WiFi, he could have. If he wanted to ban laptop use during certain hours, he could have. (Defensive much, Lance?)
After reading that, I suddenly understood the Tea Lounge was going to close either way. These days, it was a wonderful place in spite of its owner and not because of him. I’m sure he used to have a better attitude about it, but clearly not anymore.
Things change. All the time.
In fact, this blog entry is coming out on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday for that very reason; I was about to post this yesterday before I headed out for the night, but as I searched for the link to the above heinous article, I stumbled upon THIS.
Two long-time, devoted Tea Lounge patrons are in talks to re-open it as a place called The Meeting House, a cross-cultural co-working space/community center/café.
Oh man. It’s so moving. Things like that are only supposed to happen in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
So, the Tea Lounge may re-open as an even better version of what it was, run by people who are genuinely excited about it.
Or maybe not.
Either way, it’s a reminder that life is unpredictable and magical and painful and great.
And things change. All the time.