Java Cabana owner Mary Burns stops in the middle of a story that, she says, has never been told before. "Maybe I shouldn't mention this," she says hesitantly before pressing on. "I worked at Java Cabana before I owned it. Tommy Foster founded it in 1992 ... and we used to butt heads a lot. Eventually, he said, 'One of us has got to go, and it's not going to be me.' And he fired me."
Burns, who was inspired by the creative communities that formed around places like Midtown's long-gone Babylon Cafe and always dreamed of running her own cafe, thinks she might have been too big for her britches. "People always said I walked around like I owned the place," Burns recalls. But the firing didn't end her relationship with the funky little gathering place, a cornerstone business of Cooper-Young's revival. She continued organizing weekly poetry readings, which became slams and, over time, evolved into evenings of song, stories, and verse. Recording artist Garrison Starr played early shows there and so did Valerie June.
"I always wanted to have a place where people who might not otherwise encounter each other could have a conversation," Burns says.
Foster, an artist and scene-builder, knew exactly where he was founding his coffee shop. Vintage furnishings reflected Midtown's bohemian sensibilities as did "The First Church of the Elvis Impersonator," a coin-operated shrine to the men who would be Kings. More than 500 couples were married in the Viva Wedding Chapel, a back room wreathed in folk-art paintings of blues saints, country heroes, and the gods of early rock-and-roll.
"Couples come in all the time and say, 'We were married here,'" Burns says.
Saturday, November 17th, Java Cabana is throwing a party to celebrate 20 years of strong coffee, music, poetry, weirdness, and funk. Footage of Elvis impersonator weddings will be shown, specialty drinks will be half-price all day, and the music starts at 7 p.m. with Star & Micey and Mark Allen, who has been playing at Java Cabana since there's been a Java Cabana.
Java Cabana's 20th Anniversary, Saturday, November 17th