Drinking coffee at Hollywood Boulevard's Warehaus 57 provides more stimulation than the average house blend. On the walls hang colorful paintings with titles such as Indian Tantric and Sun Keeper. Over 3000 used books, including Sadism and Masochism, The Anatomy of Witchcraft, and The Physics of Star Trek line the bookshelves. In the back of the store, leather minidresses and outfits made of see-through chain mail are for sale. On a recent Friday evening, a saxophonist and an electric flute player perform in the coffeehouse's storefront window, attracting the attention of sidewalk pedestrians.
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."
Six months after renting the space, Tellman opened the coffee bar as a way to attract people to the store. She built a wall to separate the bar from her living space, which included a bed, couch, coffee table, and lots of clothes. Customers had to walk through there to get to the restrooms.
Shortly after opening the coffee bar, Tellman was approached by Debra Clark, a teacher at Hollywood Hills High School. Clark was looking for a place to showcase student poetry, and Tellman agreed to volunteer her space. Unfortunately there wasn't much space. Clark asked where the stage would be.
"I looked around at the front window and said, 'Right there,'" recalls Tellman, "because that was the only available space I could think of." Clark brought her students, and the poetry readings, known as Poetry Art Works (PAW), were held in the window while a crowd of several dozen students watched from the street. Music was also included, with students playing acoustic guitars between poems. The readings were scheduled for the last Saturday of every month and have occurred on that day ever since. PAW recently held its 33rd reading at Warehaus 57.
The success of PAW sparked the interest of other creative types, who approached Tellman with ideas. FIU's graduate writing program, for instance, began to hold readings there, and local musicians helped turn Warehaus 57 into a new live-music venue. Acts such as Dharma Blue, Michael Judge, Stephan Mikes, Tory Voodoo, and Rene Alvarez have played there. Current regulars include Amereida, Kelly Dolan, Zac, China Doll, and Big Blue Sky. The cafe became known as a regular outlet for local acoustic, folk, and world-beat artists.
"There weren't any places in downtown Hollywood for acoustic musicians to play," notes Tellman. "The window was perfect for that, and it started attracting more people to come in, and I said, 'OK, this is something I'd like to have.'"
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Tellman, who has three part-time employees, now plans to concentrate more on fashion design. "The store and the events became my creative outlet," she explains. "I always have to have something creative, where the energy comes out. Warehaus 57 wound up evolving from people's collective mentality. Now everything's going pretty smooth, and I can get back to filling the store with my things."
Though excited about the store's current direction, Tellman did receive a minor setback recently in the form of a significant rent increase. With the successful opening of O'Hara's directly across the street, Hollywood's revitalization seems to be on target. Tellman maintains hope that she can continue to reap the benefits of increased business without falling victim to the area's success.
"Everybody saw what happened in South Beach," she says. "When you revitalize, there are smaller stores that get bumped out because they can't afford it. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the increase, it was bigger than I expected. But I was able to make it."
She adds, "I hope that Hollywood can keep its Village-y feel. That's all I've known it to be since I moved here, and that comes from my customers, too. The beauty of Hollywood is that it still is one of the last downtowns, and it should be kept that way.