Coffee Break

Bismarck, North Dakota

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Although it conflicts with my personal policies for traveling, I researched in advance to find a coffeeshop to visit in the 3 morning hours that I was going to be in Bismarck before heading west to Teddy Roosevelt National Park. I settled upon Green Earth Cafe, said to be where the ‘artsy’ Bismarck crowd gathers. I guess the artsies moved to Minot because Green Earth is now known as Urban Girl, a bead and accessory shop. As we wandered aimlessly through Bismarck, soaking up its bleak lack of conciliatory charm, which its southern neighbour Rapid City seemed to cultivate in a very self-conscious manner, we saw only empty skies, empty sidewalks, and stripped down signs of utilitarian survival.

Coffee Break; Bismarck, North Dakota

After cruising the block around the Provident Building and back south to Broadway in the hopes that Green Earth had moved somewhere else or that there might be a coffeeshop somewhere closer to the center of the downtown, we ended up in the alley next to Urban Girl strategizing our next move and jonesing for some bitter brew. It was then, through the wide intersection, that we espied Coffee Break! Even from Broadway I could see the window filled with Torani syrups. I mean filled as in no natural light could enter not filtered through the coloured ooze. From afar this awakened a fear in me that the shop was more of a supply center for local businesses to bolster their break rooms. As we pressed to get a closer look it was clear that this was actually a cafe, they merely had a soft spot for the flavoured additives.

Coffee Break; Bismarck, North Dakota

I schemed in my mind what sorts of literary themes might revolve around such an apparent fetish. It was clear that I had found a subject for the review, but it was not until I entered and engaged the folks within that the review began to be penned for me, without any critical detachment necessary that in other reviews is needed to transform such drollery into the stuff one finds stimulating to compose.

The lead barista, who was assisted by a girl with dredlocks and a dark-skinned man in a tie, who I supposed was the manager of Coffee Break, seemed to have a passion for excess. Reflecting the stained glass rainbow of white Bismarck sun pouring through the stocked storefront was a visage covered more with piercings than with skin. He seemed a comfortable anomaly in what I assumed was a conservative isolated town, yet as patrons rolled through, flexing their ‘regular status,’ it became clear that he was a beloved fixture of the southside and even heckled a woman customer about owing him dinner for helping her to sell her camper. I coyly asked the man if they perchance had any soymilk, and, upon his affirmation, I ordered a soy latte. A second passed in silence, as if I were not finished constructing my ideal beverage. “You mean you don’t want any flavour?” he asked, seeming somewhat hurt. “No thanks.” I like the flavour of coffee. It was a pleasant exchange, and I appreciated his contribution to the review I sketched in my thoughts.

Coffee Break; Bismarck, North Dakota

The regulars passed through ordering drinks whose complication has been satirized more ably by the likes of Steve Martin. I enjoyed looking at all of the suggested drink compositions listed on the wall and listening to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe passing one block south carrying loads of coal westward through town. Another lad came in to work and began vacuuming with the quietest vacuum cleaner I have ever heard. Some gentlemen began bantering at the counter about gas prices when they got change from their beverages. “This will buy you one sniff of gas standing across the street from the pump.” It was a genial atmosphere so I hazarded to ask for some peanut butter for my plain bagel. The young lady behind the counter said there was none, then paused for a moment, as if snapping back into the Coffee Break universe of possibilities, and offered, “We do have peanut butter syrup.”

Coffee Break; Bismarck, North Dakota


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Coffee Break

301 East Main Street
Bismarck, North Dakota 58501



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CAFE TABLEAUX
is a compendium of literary, anecdotal musings on coffeeshop and cafe culture.
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