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End of an era at Mandolin Café

Tacoma café will go dark Sunday

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As the legacy of Mandolin Cafe comes to a steady, yet screeching halt this Sunday, loyal patrons will continue to funnel through the well-loved neighborhood space to say goodbye.  Notorious for holding a history of rocky ownerships, fantastic (and at times not-so-fantastic) food, liberating live music, entrepreneurial coffee roasters and hard working staff, Mandolin Cafe takes one last deep breath of warm energy before closing its doors to a community that has been with them from the beginning.

With the buzz of friendly chatter behind me and a whirr of espresso makings in my ears, I sip what will be my last Americano from Mandolin Cafe while partaking in conversation with cafe manager Emily Montgomery. She leans back in her chair with a look of exhaustion in her eyes and the sound of solemn content in her words. She has accepted the sudden news of the building's sale with a statement of, "I guess we just have to move on. Very rarely do you work with people you like, and now we all have to find new jobs ... and not with each other."

We reminisce about Mandolin's ownership evolvement that originated with current building owner John Morrison.  We looked over at the current kitchen space and recalled the old coffee roaster that once housed AJ and his Valhalla Coffee.

"We had a pannini press behind the coffee counter and had the sandwiches brought in by someone else, then we would press them here, but that's all we could do at the time," Montgomery tells me. 

Creig Kostoff from Sophia Bistro then took over and installed Mandolin's kitchen, giving customers the beginnings of handcrafted cafe eats. Afterward, Morrison stepped back in as cafe owner for a brief stint before selling the business to Alfredo Rossi of Europa Bistro.

As of Mandolin Cafe's grand re-opening on June 11, 2011, business ownership has been under the reigns of building owner and Mandolin Cafe creator John Morrison's good friend Tom Montante.  Tom promised to bring Mandolin Cafe back to its friendly roots, vibrant food, local feel and inviting atmosphere ... and that's exactly what he did.

Montgomery and I talk of her most memorable experiences here as she grasps her coffee up to her chin and smiles. The sound of regular performers such as James Coates and Gina Belliveau will forever ring heavy in the space once called Mandolin Café, as fond memories of Trivia Night with Jeff Ross craft happiness in our hearts.  "Although Team Mandolin never won at trivia night, but it was still so much fun," Montgomery says with a laugh.

"There was that time Little Tybee played here ... oh man!  It was like we heard them on the stations and we liked them so much. Then they agreed to play here and we were like, really?  They're playing here?  Ok, act cool, act cool," she says as she conjures up more to grin about.

News of Morrison's sale of the building came sudden to everyone, and rumors of a new sushi restaurant filling Mandolin's space run cold under the feet of all who work here.  

"I already have summer-itis," states Montgomery when I ask what's next in her management career.  One staff member already has a job at Starbucks, another has a desk job at a car dealership lined up.  She then adds, "We're keeping our spirits up.  We're all going to wear wigs this weekend. It's going to be fun. As corny as it sounds, we just want everyone to keep the spirit of the Mandolin alive and remember all the great times they had here."

Mandolin Cafe will host its regular Sunday evening open mic night this Sunday, July 15, beginning at 6 p.m. and will stay open until everyone has had their chance to play one last time.

Happy hour prices will be in effect all night, "Or until we run out," Montgomery tells me, adding, "Otherwise I'm drinking it all. Someone's got to get rid of it, right?"

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