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If Warehaus 57 has any one particular ethos, it can be found on a small coffee table that abuts one wall of the cafe. On its surface, spelled out in yellow tiles, is the sentence, "Think About Something."
In its four-year existence, Warehaus 57 has become a gathering place for Broward County's acoustic music and literary scenes, a location for those who seek a progressive, open-minded, cultural environment. Live acts play "the window" Thursday through Sunday of each week, and five different literary groups hold readings or workshops in the cafe each month. Just popping into the place for a cup of joe can easily result in a lengthy conversation with a local actress, writer, musician, or artist.
"Eating in the Warehaus is like having lunch with Federico Fellini," according to Jack "No Bus Fare" Johnson. A singer-songwriter living in Hollywood, Johnson recently recorded an ode to the cafe, titled simply "Warehaus 57," on his latest CD. "Warehaus embodies an effort to support genuine, not derivative, art," he stated recently via e-mail. "For that reason it deserves to be immortalized. Also, they serve great spinach pie."
The overall flavor of Warehaus 57 is informal and communal. The sax-and-flute team, known as Amereida, is more informally known as Jorge and Stephanie, who happen to be husband and wife. This particular Friday night, a crowd of 75 or so stand outside the cafe watching the duo trade solos on one of their world-beat compositions. After the song's end, Jorge announces that tonight is their one-year anniversary playing Warehaus 57 and invites everyone to join them for a free glass of wine. The glasses have already been poured and set on trays by Lauren Tellman, Warehaus 57's owner.
Jorge and Stephanie have performed on many stages in their musical career, including one at the prestigious Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, but Warehaus 57 is where they feel most comfortable.
"People here understand, they get your music here. It's in the air," says Stephanie, a petite woman with long curly hair, wearing a sleeveless leather vest with zippers across her chest. This piece of couture, like all the clothing for sale at Warehaus 57, was designed by Tellman. "People are relaxed and open here," Stephanie continues. "It's a very open-minded place."
Zac, a local multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, agrees. "Other places don't have the same vibe, the contact," he says. He also points out that he particularly likes playing the window. "I can play for people walking by who would never hear my music otherwise, from senior citizens to kids. I have direct access to the people."
The shop attracts equal attention from the South Florida literary community. John Dufresne, who teaches writing at FIU and has authored two highly acclaimed novels, Louisiana Power and Light and Love Warps the Mind a Little, holds a free fiction-writing workshop at the coffee shop once a month. According to Dufresne, Warehaus 57 has put Hollywood on the literary map.
"This was needed, and we didn't know we needed it until it happened," says Dufresne from his home in Davie. "I don't even know of anything like it in Miami. It's like an educational center in a way, but also a funky, informal kind of place. The people who go there define it. Everybody knows now that you check to see what's happening at Warehaus 57 before you make your plans."
Tellman deserves the credit for establishing this civilized outpost. A 37-year-old Pennsylvania native more apt to wear overalls or jeans than the exotic outfits she designs, Tellman moved to South Florida in the late '70s to attend Miami's Bauder Fashion College. She eventually established a reputation for her gritty leather fashions and saw her work featured in magazines such as Penthouse, Details, and Seventeen. In the late '80s, Tellman opened her own business, selling '40s-style clothing buttons, and watched it grow from 2 employees to 55. When her buttons fell out of fashion, Tellman closed her doors. In 1994 she opened Warehaus 57, which also serves as the name of her clothing line.
The cafe was originally intended as a design studio where Tellman could create and display her work. She did entertain the idea of adding a coffee bar, but times were tough. In fact, she lived in the back of the store for the first nine months of business and had no car.
"It was an interesting time," recalls Tellman. "I had my dog and my cat with me until the health inspector kicked them out. It was hard, but I still look at it as a happy period, because I was designing and meeting a lot of new friends. There were a lot of artists in Hollywood then. Harrison Street was all artists' studios."