Novelist Yvonne Cassidy’s Ode to Montague Street’s Connecticut Muffin

Guest post by Yvonne Cassidy

  1. The WiFi didn’t always work.
  2. The vinyl seats – the big ones upstairs, the ones like couches – were pretty worn. Some people might call them shabby.
  3. Even though the table next to the bathroom was big, you were better off choosing one of the other ones near the front, because the smell wasn’t always the freshest.
  4. At lunchtime or late afternoon, kids came in and clustered six or eight around one table, and it was hard to get anything done, almost impossible, even with headphones.

I am trying to count reasons why I shouldn’t be sad that Connecticut Muffin on Montague Street has closed down, reasons that should convince me that I will, in fact, be better off writing somewhere else. And that’s as many as I can muster – four.

If I am going to do this properly, be rigorous about it, I should make another list too – a list of reasons why I wish it wasn’t closing. But that list would be full of feelings, and feelings are much harder to describe. And they don’t fit on a list. And sometimes feelings aren’t even real, sometimes you only think they are.

Standing on the street, looking at the newspaper plastering the inside of the windows, my feelings are real. Shock, that comes first – I was only here on Friday. And it turns out that what they say in books about people’s feet being rooted to the spot when they’re in shock is true, because I can’t seem to turn around and walk away, just like I can’t seem to read beyond the first line of the little white sign that says they’re closed, but I can’t seem to look at anything else either. And even though shock isn’t finished yet – it’s only settling in – another feeling elbows it out of the way. Sadness. And in this city of a thousand coffee shops I am crying. I am crying because this coffee shop has closed.

I shouldn’t be crying. It’s a coffee shop. No-one is dead, no-one is dying. It is ridiculous to cry.

And yet, I am.

If I was to write a list of the reasons why I am crying, a list that would make you understand, I would tell you that a lot of my last novel was written here, and that since I started my new one, this coffee shop has become (had become) the only place where it seems I can write it. Tuesdays and Fridays are my writing days, and you’ll find me on the 2 train, heading downtown and into Brooklyn, getting out at Clark Street with an excitement even the slowest lifts in the world can’t dampen. Down Henry Street, past my favourite church, onto Montague, and I’m at my “desk” – the big table upstairs in the front– by 9:45am, writing by 10. I have 20,000 words or so now that I’m almost happy with and they’ve all been written here, nowhere else, and standing looking at the newspaper covered windows I can’t help but feel as though my characters are trapped inside.

So maybe after reading that, you might understand a little more. You might cut me a break. And when I told you how I love their Vanilla Chai Tea Latte made with almond milk and that finding one of those –especially a good one – is hard, you might nod. And when I described how Madeline would have this made for me every morning before I even ordered it, how she would start to steam the almond milk while I claimed my table upstairs and have it ready by the time I was at the counter, you would probably see that this place was no Starbucks. You might even begin to see that this coffee shop, a little shabby as it was, was more than just a coffee shop. At least to me.

I like Starbucks, by the way. I write there too. In fact I am writing in Starbucks now, a block away from my old coffee shop. I am drinking a chai tea latte (soy milk, not almond) and their WiFi is working, as it always is. The vinyl in this Starbucks is less than two years old, it’s not worn yet. So relocating here, bringing my characters with me here, shouldn’t be a problem, right? It certainly shouldn’t be cause for tears.

And yet, it is.

Because it’s not just about my book being born in that other coffee shop, or the big table like a desk overlooking Montague Street, or even Madeline and the almond milk chai. It’s all of that and more than that – something else, another feeling, something that doesn’t fit on a list at all.

I’m not from New York. I’m from a place that’s much smaller, a place where it’s not unusual to know the name of the person behind the counter in the newsagents or the butcher’s or the coffee shop. Last month, when I was home, I was in the local Starbucks (we have those too) and the woman working there remembered my drink order and apologised for not instantly getting my name right. I didn’t take it personally – after all it has been three years since I moved away.

And this knowing everyone and everyone knowing you can be suffocating – I found suffocating – and anonymity was just one of the hundreds of things about New York I fell in love with, right from the start. And I still love this. I love how I can get on a subway and not worry about getting stuck making small talk to an old work colleague or someone from school. I love how my business stays my business unless I choose to make it yours too. I love how, running in Riverside Park, listening to Macklemore on my iPhone I can throw my hands in the air at the part of “Victory Lap” where he throws his hands in the air. Because no-one knows me. And no-one will talk about me. And no-one will care.

And yet…

Writing this, as often happens me when I’m writing, I am explaining something to you and something to me at the very same time. And I can see how, after three years of living here, that I have carved out spaces, pockets of the city that have become mine. And how even though I love New York’s density, its energy and its anonymity, its swirl of lives and voices and footsteps, that without having these spaces just for me, I might somehow get lost. That whether life is up or life is down or life is flat-lining, I need these spaces to stay the same, to be there for me. I need people to know my name.

And this little coffee shop that was a little shabby inside, might not have looked like much to you, but it was one of my spaces.

And that, to me, makes it worthy of a few tears.

Maybe even more than just a few.

Yvonne Cassidy on AMAZON
The Other Boy by Yvonne Cassidy
What Might Have Been Me by Yvonne Cassidy
How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? by Yvonne Cassidy

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  • ClaudeScales

    I had trouble keeping a dry eye after reading this, although I may have set foot in Connecticut Muffin twice, and then only for take out coffee, during its years of tenure here. I’ve lost my share of “spaces” during my years in New York: the Bells of Hell, the Lion’s Head, Capulet’s on Montague, to name a few. It seems the velocity of the Schumpeterian “gales of creative destruction” (but are they always creative?) has been increasing steadily in recent years. We must, it seems, resign ourselves to a world, and lives, constantly in churn.

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    Ms. Cassidy, I’ve never been to this Connecticut Muffin but I will now be missing it with and for you.

  • miriamcb

    This is perfect. I feel exactly the same way – I love that NYC can provide the cloak of anonymity but you can still find your home in places where people know your name. It is more than sad (maybe even devastating) when one of those homes is gone.

  • Roberto Gautier

    In light of the passing of Connecticut Muffin’s little spot on Montague Street, Ms. Cassidy’s feelings about a neighborhood’s personal relations touch a raw nerve as corporate style and high-rise condos retire a warmer cultural climate. As a former cafe owner at 221 Court Street which closed 14 years ago, I recommend that we philosophize and act much more than we are accustomed in the face of the money-based, community vaporization in full-swing.

  • Sandy Ikeda

    What I wrote the day I discovered it had closed: “One of the neighborhood coffeehouses I’ve gone to for many years to read
    and write and to think, a place I’ve called “the office,” suddenly
    closed up yesterday. Never mind that it had coffee that tasted like
    burnt rubber – I always felt at home there. Windows covered, we peeked
    in and saw one of the guys, gave him a hug and a handshake, wished him
    well and said good-bye. Very sad now.” Sad especially to think that I will never be able to sit upstairs, looking out the front window, and wonder if that space above the old Starbucks would ever, ever get rented out.

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Thanks for your comment on my post Claude. And yes, I suppose we must, given that the only constant is change and all of that.

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Thank you! That’s a lovely thing to say and I feel better for reading it.

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    So true. I almost called this post “A Home Away from Home.” Off to find a new one tomorrow…

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Hear, hear!

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    I am jealous you got to say goodbye! Yes, I wondered about that old Starbucks space too. I met another “displaced” Muffin customer in Starbucks on Tuesday and he mentioned that the rent had become too high for Connecticut Muffin. Ironic that the other space is still empty…

  • Moni

    Met you Yvonne at The Cell (IAW&A salon) and had no idea my neighborhood figured in your creative process. I’m not one for writing in cafes myself, but after reading your eloquent elegy for CM, I’m going to try it. Beautiful piece. It should be printed elsewhere because it speaks to the loss of so much of NYC’s culture which might be bearable were it replaced with something other than cookie cutter chain stores and gross buildings full of overpriced condos.

  • Andrew Porter

    I dunno. I’ve always done all my writing at home, at my desk, first on a manual typewriter, then on my Selectric—which is still here, retired to the bottom of a closet—and now on a series of ever more powerful computers. I enjoy the peace and quiet, or the sound of music or voices on the TV babbling in the background. Your ability to create words rests in you, not in your machine, or the environment you write in. I can understand how you’ve grown used to the space in which you put hands to keyboard, but what did you do before Conn. Muffin existed? The magic resides within you. Now you’re being forced by commercial realities to move on, and change is always an unsettling experience. I’ve made my living through words for more than 50 years. Regardless of where you are, you surely will as well.

    I’ll post a link to this to Fictionmags, a Yahoo group I’m in with many professional writers and editors, and see where the discussion takes us.

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Thank you Andrew for the reminder about the magic being inside. And I do agree. Unfortunately I’ve never been great at writing at home and my prior haunt – the reading room at NYPL – is still under construction! Today I am in Park Slope seeking out new writing spaces which at this moment is in Barnes and Noble’s cafe. Must check out Fictionmags, sounds like a great group. Thanks for posting to it.

  • Andrew Porter

    Alas, FictionMags is an invitational-only group for SF and fantasy writers, editors, and their hangers-on.

    As far as places for writers to work in, there’s a place which claims over a thousand books have been written there. Here’s the link:

    Hope you find a clean, well lighted place of your very own!

  • Madeline Soto

    Hello Yvonne Cassidy its your old pal madeline. I read your story it was very touching you also made me cry. Hope all is well.

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Hi there, great to connect again and thanks so much for the feedback on the piece. I know writing in cafes isn’t for everyone but for me it actually helps to have (some) background activity to block out – and a destination to get to! Let me know how you get on if you try it…

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Hey Madeline! How cool to hear from you – now I DO get to say goodbye at least! Hoping that you have a job working in another Connecticut Muffin? I am thinking about trying the Prospect Park one as a writing spot next!

  • Yvonne Cassidy

    Thanks Andrew, I will check it out!

  • Stonebridge

    Roberto, Just a shout-out to say that I remember your cafe well – and its delicious crepes and cappuccino. It was one of my husband’s favorite haunts and he introduced me to it. Absolutely a place where one could carve out one’s own personal relationship to the city… it was its own thing and a wonderful spot. We missed you, too, when it closed…