My daughter and I are killing time at a secondhand table in the sunny storefront window of Mickey's Coffee Bar in Cleveland Heights. We have walked all the way up from home, via the library -- a hike for even a sturdy 5-year-old -- and juice and coffee, or juice and carrot cake and coffee, are an important part of the program

Mickey's is, or was, an independent coffeehouse. It is now the Phoenix, really, and one of several, but I think of it as Mickey's, in honor of the first owner, who built the long, ornate, oaken bar and hung rare posters for obscure movies along the walls.

I spent quite a bit of time in Mickey's before my daughter was born, and I remember some of those posters clearly, even though I am not a movie fan: "THE MEXICAN SPITFIRE SEES A GHOST" and "THE KID FROM CLEVELAND," and a dozen more. Perhaps they helped to finance the change of ownership, for now the posters have to do with French countryside, as accessed via the "chemins de fer d'etat du sud."

Mickey's also boasted a logo I loved for its muscular obscurity, wherein a robust man with a bushy mustache toasted the dawn with a dump truck and an industrial skyline beyond him. He wore a fez and something like a Nehru jacket. I guess his old-movie Turkish look said something about "coffee" and the industry beyond him might have suggested the coffee's strength. Deconstructing coffehouse symbols is most likely not a wise use of time.

Nowadays, the purple phoenix on the front window behind my daughter is a reference to the current owner having been involved with Cleveland's first coffehouse chain, Arabica, before it was a chain, and to his coffee roastery, which used to perfume the funky Coventry neighborhood. Then the roaster caught fire and a couple of buildings burned.

The roastery moved downtown, and since the fire, Coventry has stopped being funky, to the point of driving away hacky-sack players outside the former Arabica, which has closed. The funky action is moving to Lee Road, where Mickeys/the Phoenix is. Arabica is moving in. Starbucks, of course, has already arrived.

My daughter is uninterested in French travel posters. But she is not yet old enough to be bored by her parents, and demands a story. We have passed the time with several, in fact, some true and some made-up. She wants to hear how the vacuum cleaner was invented (God knows why), and I begin to tell her an anecdote I read once, but she has already begun to crawl under the table, with her feet in the air, and I know it's time to go.

She and I have been regulars for a couple of years. I haven't forgotten the first visit: The young woman at the counter, who had short black hair, a strikingly fair complexion, a whole carrillon of rings in her ears, and a stud through her eyebrow that I tried hard not to stare at. She thought the long-haired moppet peering gravely into the pastry case was utterly cute, but let me know with a withering look that I was superfluous, and perhaps unclean, even if I was the one with the wallet. Happily, I never saw her again.

After the incident with the chocolate milk, I think that is just as well. Later, the Phoenix's introduction of carrot cake sealed the relationship. Biscotti you can gnaw the icing from are all right, but carrot cake is the real deal where my daughter is concerned, and now every trip to the library comes with a plea to go to the coffeehouse.

I wish we had time to go more often. I am sure my wife does, too. I like to think Mickey's helps to anchor my daughter in space, as one of the landmarks she might forget but won't lose, like the walk up from home, past the hide-and-jump-out trees and her "old school" -- a preschool in a picturesque church -- along scary, busy Lee Road; to the library, where the computers have cool games; and to the climactic snack at Mickey's. I suppose it anchors me, too.

As we walk out, a woman remarks that she enjoyed eavesdropping on us. We were talking like adult friends, she said. I can hardly be troubled about about the eavesdropping, for when I'm alone in Mickey's, I do it, too.

Mildly pleased, I lead my daughter out, thinking to myself that what attaches me to places often isn't the place but the community in it.

Back (usually)
Top (If you'd rather)