Sad news for all of us who celebrate the only-in-Santa Cruz ambience available in a dwindling handful of local landmarks. Hang on tight: Caffe Pergolesi, home to students, lovers, and coffee aficionados for more than 25 years, is closing. Hard to take, following so close on the heels of Logos. I have spent countless hours, and conducted dozens and dozens of interviews in this rambling sanctuary of bohemian vibes. The porch with its bowers and cool summer shade. What a loss!
Maybe it’s time you asked yourself just why Santa Cruz residents look the other way as an influx of non-taxpaying street denizens drive away customers from downtown retail, food, and social centers. Are we caving in to aggressive and unpleasant pop-up occupiers? Or are baby-boom retail owners simply hitting retirement age? Food for thought.
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Aug. 26. That’s the last day that the endlessly funky, wonderful, completely unique Caffe Pergolesi will be serving coffee. Owner Karl Heiman, who also owns Mr. Toots in Capitola is calling it quits for the coffeehouse that also served as a study hall, trysting spot, and site of many a chess match and spontaneous poetry readings.
“The happiest part of my time with Pergolesi was offering a space where people could come and sit, and feel at home and have a good cup of coffee that wasn’t super expensive,” Heiman told me last week. “I wanted it to be a place for the community to enjoy. I’ve owned it for 14 years, and I wish I could keep it open,” he says, with a noticeable sadness, “but I’m being backed into a corner. The transients are out of control. My customers don’t like it, people are afraid to walk by the building now. I’ve written to the city council and to the police—but nothing has been done.”
Heiman reassured me that his Capitola outpost of bohemian coffee, Mr. Toots, is absolutely staying open. “It doesn’t have the transient problem that Pergolesi suffered,” he says.
Graced with idiosyncratic architecture of Winchester Mystery House proportions, his incarnation of Pergolesi took over the Dr. Miller House, a gingerbread Victorian built in 1886, and hosted pretty much every single person who ever lived in or passed through Santa Cruz. Deliciously mismatched furniture—including the popular church pew—and candy-colored rooms with high ceilings and ample natural light made for memorable, and lengthy visits. Great coffee, tons of attitude, and those incredible cupcakes, plus the space to simply sit, read, and meditate—Pergolesi had it all.
The original Caffe Pergolesi, which brought hip urban atmosphere to a location behind what is now Lulu Carpenter’s, was home to poets, intellectuals, and creative gadflys until the earthquake of 1989. Advertising itself as “the oldest coffeehouse in Santa Cruz,” Pergolesi was the epitome of local, and several generations of UCSC students owe their bachelor’s degrees to long hours of study in the house’s welcoming, non-judgmental ambience. More recently, alas, it had attracted droves of aggressive panhandlers setting up house along the sidewalks and architecturally intricate front porch of the sprawling old Victorian.
On the last day, Aug. 26, Heiman will be offering Pergolesi wares at 1973 prices, “prices from the old days,” as a fond farewell and “thank you” to the many who have supported the coffeehouse over the years. Get on over there and soak up the unforgettable atmosphere one last time. 418 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.