The “Coming Soon” sign has come down. And the public has poured in.
The Coffee Bar, the latest addition to the Putnam redevelopment in the heart of downtown, opened its doors on February 17. If the enthusiastic reception it has received from locals and visitors alike is any indication, it appears that its clientele was waiting for the moment.
The establishment occupies a spot in the old Pennysaver building next to the relocated Bennington Bookshop and the former home of the South Street Café, but with a new configuration and new design.
The 2,000 feet of interior space is several times as long as it is wide, with exposed ductwork along the high ceiling and entrances at both ends.
Coffee Bar manager Kate Long calls the décor “country/rustic/industrial” – barnboards line the walls, and there are elegant slab tabletops by Dorset furniture maker Dan Mosheim as well as one large table sheathed in metal by Al Bagdosen of Depot 62.
A couch and some comfy chairs provide one of several social nooks, while tables with stools ranged along one wall are perfect for tête-à-têtes. The lighting is both funky and functional, and there’s a low-rise stage along one wall (more about that in a moment). The art on the walls is by local and Vermont artists and sculptors, and most of the pieces are for sale.
But you came for the coffee. You will not be disappointed. Mocha Joe’s, longtime coffee roasters from Brattleboro, Vermont, supplies the beans, and the friendly Coffee Bar baristas take it from there.
You can get an inexpensive cup of one of three carefully sourced drip coffees (from Papua New Guinea, Cameroon, or Brazil) or go for something a little fancier, in which case the creamy-smooth, richly flavored lattes are a popular choice; twelve ounces will set you back four bucks.
A selection of loose-leaf tea is also available; the staff measures your tea into a sachet for you to steep. A cooler provides Rocky Mountain soda and other soft drinks for those so inclined, and there are snacks by the bag as well as a selection of pastries supplied by East Arlington’s Wilcox Ice Cream.
The Coffee Bar is also a music venue, thanks to an association with Manchester-based impresario Doug Hacker, creator of the popular Billsville performance series.
Billsville began eleven years ago in Williamstown with an unusual business model (“if you can call It that,” says Hacker). Hacker and his wife Caroline invited musicians into their spacious living room or backyard for “house concerts.” They’d supply the sound system, put up and feed the performers, and give them 100% of the gate, usually charging $20 per head to the public.
That formula has attracted Grammy-nominated artists and others more used to club dates in urban settings, and, with a modest cut to the house, the Coffee Bar is now offering live shows booked by Billsville.
The first two acts (Dylan LeBlanc and Ali McGuirk) played to full and happy houses the last weekend in February, and more performances are on the way. The Coffee Bar has a liquor license for performances, with Vermont craft beers on offer and spirits from Bennington’s own Village Garage distillery.
How did this all come to be?
Paul Carroccio of TPW Real Estate, a coffee-lover and supporter of the arts who has been “a drummer in a band or two” (hence the use of drums as ceiling lighting fixtures) is the leasing agent for the Putnam project, and he and his wife Chrissy are the masterminds behind The Coffee Bar.
They saw the need for a gathering space downtown and took the plunge based on success with a little coffee shop adjacent to Paul’s Ludlow, Vermont, offices. Says Paul, “Chrissy and I believe it’s a responsibility to support the community we live in.” He and manager Kate made the dozens of creative choices that patrons are now in a position to appreciate. “This is more than a coffee shop,” Kate adds. “There’s a lot going on, and there’s more to come. Stay tuned.”
A gratefully caffeinated community raises a cup in celebration.
Pownal resident Phil Holland writes a monthly post for “Vermont Begins Here.”