Walk into the Typo Café at 7:30 on a Friday morning, and all you can hear is the hum of the fridge. No music. No screaming latte steam. No clank of mugs. Hell, nobody. Not even a barista. Just vintage couches, comfy chairs, solid tables, a few school desks, lamps and a dozen-odd typewriters scattered about. You halfway expect a group of monkeys to scramble out of a doorway and start work on a screenplay or something. It's a little dark in here, and feels like 1947. Maybe we're not supposed to be here. Somebody forgot to the lock the door last night. Perhaps this is a ruse.
Then, a rumble, a small commotion from the connected Tin Ceiling theater. The door opens, and, just as we suspected, a dozen monkeys file out. They're all wearing spectacles and have pencils tucked behind their ears. They pass the bookshelves one of them grabs a copy of William H. Gass' Omensetter's Luck and head to the coffee dispensers. One by one they fill their mugs with Sumatra Gayoland organic free trade coffee. It comes out hot and smells like smoky wood, with a little bit of saddle.
The monkeys settle in front of their typewriters and start plonking away, while one female monkey bangs on an upright piano. Occasionally she stumbles onto the melody of Duke Ellington's "Caravan," which quickly fades into a discordant mess. One particular primate "Monkey #7" seems to be onto something. He's hitting his typewriter keys hard, stopping only to swig his coffee and get refills. He's on some sort of roll with "A Midsummer Night's Dream." A few other monkeys watch him out of the corners of their eyes. They didn't think #7 had it in him.
Typo Café, the brainchild of owners Robert Strasser and Tim Rakel, has been open for about a month. Located in the old Way Out Club, it has retained the same feel (and golden wood paneling) as its predecessor. But the board games have been replaced with books, the booze with Kaldi's coffee. The café's open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The books are for sale, a small but discriminating selection (Martin Amis, Flannery O'Connor, Bruno Schulz, Neil Gaiman, Umberto Eco, David Mamet) priced at between $3 and $5 a pop. A sign by one bookshelf reads, "Today's Special: Novels and Tea."
Sumatra, so you know, is an island in Indonesia. Gayoland refers to the region in which the monkeys' coffee was grown. When it's shipped to St. Louis coffee-roaster Kaldi's, the beans are still green and look like little bits of jade. After it's roasted and brewed, the coffee is hearty and strong, able to fuel very, very powerful bursts of inspiration.
In fact, #7 is nearly finished, having by some sort of miracle made it through the five acts of A Midsummer Night's Dream without a typo not even a misplaced comma. The other monkeys have surrounded him and are pumping their arms with glee, screaming, hooting. Go monkey! Go monkey!
"Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue," pokes #7, keys driving into paper like nails into a coffin, "We will make amends ere long;/Else the Puck a liar call." He's in the homestretch, all of Shakespeare's loose ends tightened. "So, good night unto you all./Give me yoor hands" oh no! "if we bx frzends" ouch "And Robin shall rextore amendz." Dang! So close. So close.
Monkey # 7 yelps and starts banging his head on the keys. Not on this date. His peers grumble and return to their typewriters. Tomorrow's another day.