In a world where Starbucks dominates the systematic, over-priced energizing of Western civilization, and coffee has become the “guzzle-down-burn-your-tongue-and-keep-on-chugging” beverage for congested traffic commutes and stale office meetings, the good ole’ days of writers’ corners in rustic, Hemingway-style cafés seem to be an increasingly endangered species. Indeed, such places may be altogether extinct if it were not for the continuous streamline of urban development trending all over the country’s oldest and most historically enriched cities, sprouting alcoves of quaint little cafés right alongside the bustling city streets. While such destinations have quietly settled their roots around the Metro-Detroit area, it would be an amateur’s mistake to assume that all independent coffee houses are the same in their uniqueness. Whether you are an aspiring writer, a budding artist, a diligent student looking for a haven of caffeine and focus, or someone who just enjoys a cup of damn good coffee, take it upon yourself to explore the local, non-corporate coffee houses to find an atmosphere and a hot beverage that’s right for you. And, perhaps, that sanctuary rich in the aromas of baked goods and coffee beans is Hamtramck’s own Café 1923, located at 2287 Holbrook Street.
“Coffee can save your soul.” At least, that’s the mantra Café 1923 proudly proclaims in big, bold letters on their website’s home page. However, what is now known as Hamtramck’s favorite café did not always rely on espresso shots and freshly brewed coffee to generate business. In fact, the only thing richer than their soothing, creamy hot chocolate is Café 1923’s history, which marks it as an even greater asset to the community in terms of its cultural significance, something that cannot be found at any Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts location. The “1923” in Café 1923 originates from the year it was founded by Polish immigrants Paul and Bernice Zukowski. The business grew from its humble beginnings as a typical corner store that sold meats, produce, and household supplies in the store’s front and candy and sodas in the back to a refurnished and refurbished coffee house that holds more than eighty years of Hamtramck history within its resilient structure. Even more impressive is the fact that Café 1923 has managed to stay within the Zukowski family through the years of economic booms and busts. Presently, Café 1923 is owned by the forth generation of the Zukowski lineage. For Café 1923, “Coffee can save your soul” seems to be an appropriate slogan, as coffee is now the primary product propelling the “soul” of the business and the building forward into the future.
When visiting Café 1923, one does not have to be well versed in its history to gather that the building is an authentic historical monument to Hamtramck that has proudly weathered its days in the city. Compared to the forced look of comfort and the stiff accents of leisure that garnish mainstream coffee shops, Café 1923 is a space of exquisite, original beauty that fosters a genuine atmosphere of community and warmth, the kind that doesn’t come from merely drinking hot coffee. Walking in from the front entrance, Café 1923 greets patrons with a full wood floor- shiny and scuffed and crumbs scattered in all the right places, making it seem deeply loved and familiar, even if it is your first time there- that customers follow with the eagerness of Dorothy along the Yellow Brick Road to the second room, the true gem of Café 1923’s appeal, the room I nicknamed the “reading room.”
The reading room is a magical area where books of all sizes, colors, and genres line the oak wood shelves amongst old typewriters, ancient magazines, dusty beverage bottles, candles, favorite board games of days past and present, and many other little trinkets, each adding their own unique flare of character to this gypsy-style den of an artist’s dream. Aside from our own bedrooms and basements, it is only in the most enchanting places like Café 1923’s reading room where you can find Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God sitting next to a copy of an old, yellowed paperback titled The Official Movie Trivia Quiz Book #2. And to those who have never experienced Café 1923 before, I would suggest describing its wonder to them using the previous sentence. Because that is exactly what Café 1923 represents. It is a mixed bag of coziness, elegance, quirkiness, intimacy, a hint of nostalgic sadness, and pure bliss. It is one of those rare places where you can go to be alone all day- or at least from the operating hours of 7am to 9pm, and 10am to 7pm on the weekends- and never feel lonely, especially with all of the glorious caffeine and carbs available for cheap consumption.
Within its doors, Café 1923 has something for everyone who cares to stop by, even the non-coffee drinkers. The menu offers a wide range of beverages- tea, smoothies, and sodas- and a quality selection of snacks for a price that actually encourages you to come again. Upon my first visit to Café 1923, I could not repress my overly excited smile as one of the friendly staff members handed me my Americano in a diner style mug big enough to eat a hearty helping of soup from. I carefully wobbled my mug back to my seat and took a big gulp of the deliciously hot liquid. As I sat there, gazing at the month’s featured local artist’s work on the walls and reinvigorating my mind with each sip of espresso, I truly experienced one of those contented Ahhhh moments. You know, the kind that proliferate every Maxwell House and Folgers commercial. But my Ahhhh moment was not a fabrication for consumerism. My Ahhhh came from finding a place where coffee was not in short supply, Wi-Fi was free, plastic payment was not allowed, and most importantly, where my creative energies felt electric and inspired. For someone who is accustomed to Styrofoam cups and Panera Bread chaos, I am not exaggerating when I say that Café 1923 is my ideal Midwestern hideaway.
However, if you are someone who feels constrained within walls and craves the urban outdoors to reach your creative muses, worry not; Café 1923 has an outdoor patio too. Just keep walking until your feet hit the concrete stepping stones and the rustic tin ceiling explodes into unending strokes of white-blue. The rear lot of Café 1923 is just as homey as the rest of the shop, and upon sitting there for a couple of hours, you are sure to forget that you are not in your own backyard. So, next time you’re on your way to grab a tall, half-caff, sugar free, vanilla latte at 120 degrees, take a detour to Hamtramck’s Café 1923 and see what you’ve been missing out on.