Why am I here? I'm squeezed into a booth, my eyes reduced to bloodshot slits staring into the middle of nowhere. I can't be here for the food or the atmosphere. I have no real connection with the place and don't especially care about its history, so I'm not here for any of those reasons, either.
I'm glaring at a menu in the Village Coffee Shop, on 1605 Folsom in Boulder, but I am not thinking about food. All I can think is: Why I am here?!?
The Village Coffee Shop is a diner in the truest sense. Plastic booths, cramped space, hectic service and watery coffee since 1971. Why do people go to places like this?
Still, ask ten people about their favorite restaurant experience, and I'm guessing no fewer than eight will mention a place not unlike the Village, a place with character.
Here's part of the Village's character: When a customer comes in to eat, a server will ask if you've been there before -- and if you say no, that kind server will quickly quiet the whole restaurant by announcing that there are a couple of "Village Virgins" in the house. The whole restaurant will then cheer, and the offending party's face will turn redder than when they lost their actual virginity.
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While this is a hilarious, occasionally awkward practice, I think the ceremony goes much deeper than singling someone out.
It says something about belonging. Could you imagine walking into a Subway and having this happen? I asked owner Shanna Henkel's take on the practice. "Yeah, I don't know," she responded. "I guess you have to be a legend in your own time, even though it feels so inherent to us. Waitresses will stay for decades and are comfortable with customers. We get people who really don't like it, but it's part of the whole coffeeshop persona."
Creating that persona takes time. But once a place has it, it's inherent to the experience. And so, while I can't explain it, when I want some chicken-fried steak with questionable gravy, perfect diner eggs and hash browns, I feel guilty going anywhere but the Village.
So maybe it's not the food, the atmosphere, my connection, or the history. Maybe it's just all of that, in one big combo plate. As each unsuspecting "nube" turns red as the place cheers, we have just one more reason to love the great American diner.