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Yaffa Cafe: In Memoriam

October 3, 2014

It was 2002 and “going into the city” still had a lot of 9/11 fear attached to it. I was fifteen and my older, scruffy-faced boyfriend was picking me up. I’ve never cared about cars, but I remember climbing in to his black BMW and my heart beating really fast as I smelled the fresh leather interior. I was going into the city with a guy who had a BMW and smoked cigarettes out the window. We crossed the bridge and went downtown. I will never forget walking into Yaffa Café on St. Marks Place and marveling at the cluttered, eclectic décor. In the back patio, drenched in twinkly lights and the charm of the East Village I was smitten: with him and with the place. It represented everything I wanted to be: effortless, chic, and a little bit dirty. As we sat on the silver metal chairs, me devouring the avocado melt, him chain smoking Camels, I felt like a grown up, even if I had no use for the condoms they gave out for free at the register.

After my senior prom, held somewhere far-too-swanky, followed up by some scummy club and far too many Mike’s Hard Lemonades, we were hungry. Friends shouted out suggestions: “McDonalds!” “The Tenafly Diner!” My first real boyfriend and I had other plans. We’d made the rookie mistake of forgetting to bring a condom but we were manipulative and convinced the group to head to Yaffa Café. It was open all night! While I’d like to say that I lost my virginity with a Yaffa condom, it was actually a Virgin Megastore condom about a month earlier. It’s a goddamn wonder I didn’t get pregnant in high school using so many complimentary contraceptives. However, I get to say that I lost my virginity with a Virgin Megastore condom, which I’m sure kids in high school have never heard of, because it was a record store and Spotify doesn’t make condoms.

Two years later, I got a killer summer job as the production assistant for a major movie. I was nineteen and the most of the cast I was interacting with on a daily basis were up and coming actors between eighteen and twenty-five. They weren’t familiar with New York and wanted someone to show them around the East Village, where the majority of the film they were about to star in took place. After a month of falling in love with every straight guy on set, they finally asked me if I’d take them out. They wanted to go somewhere where we could all eat, drink and the scruffy-faced Brits could smoke. We jumped on the subway to Yaffa Café. They were smitten with the décor, the vibe, and me. Okay, fine so maybe no one was actually smitten with me, but for one night it was enough…and the next morning when I had to go buy a new outfit at H&M so no one would know whose hotel room I’d wandered out of was even better. Yaffa Café was magic.

Three years later, in 2008, before the market crashed, I was enrolled in a summer theatre intensive. The program was full of international students who were desperate for a local to show them around. I was clueless when it came to Brooklyn, but I was able to offer up one suggestion: sangria carafes at Yaffa. I told the scruffy-faced Brit in the group that there was a patio where he could go smoke, I’d even go with him. Nah, I didn’t want one, but I’d sit with him…because I have a thing for scruffy-faced smokers. He was leaving in a few weeks and assured me that it would be better if we didn’t get involved, because he lived in the fucking UK. I agreed and four hours later we stumbled into his bedroom. Yaffa Café was magic.

Four months later, a broker showed my best friend and I a two bedroom on Avenue A. We moved in two weeks later. I got a waitressing job on St. Marks, across the street from Yaffa. The city was changing, as it does, and I was changing with it. I didn’t need gratis prophylactics because I had my own apartment five blocks away and a Duane Reade on the corner. Every so often I’d finish a long shift and head across the street for sangria, but there were other bars on the block where I could drink for free.

About a year later, I met an older, scruffy-faced guy while on my first SAG job. He asked me out on a real date and I spent hours standing in front of my mirror on Avenue A trying to figure out what you wear on a date when its 20º with a wind chill of “fuck off”. We met for dinner at Café Colonial on Houston, another staple that has since shut its doors, saw a movie at the Sunshine, and walked up First Avenue shivering as the wind blew through the fibers of my coat. “Want to go somewhere for coffee?” He suggested. We sat at a table in the back at Yaffa. I wrapped my numb hands around a chai and we shared a chocolate cake, the first of hundreds of desserts we’d share before breaking up four years later.

This week, when I woke up to a text that read: “Yaffa Café: shut down”, I had a visceral reaction. All these memories flooded my head. Those were my benchmark relationships and flings, and all of them had Yaffa Café associations. I’ve lived in LA for the past four years, and the avocados are better, my kitchen is bigger and I could easily whip up that melt anytime I want, but Yaffa Café is gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

Cities change, people change, we move on, we move away, but one thing always stays the same, and that’s my soft spot for a scruffy-faced man in an all night café.





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