The Aroma of Buffalo’s art scene
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Barista Cecilia Pershyn, 21, fires up the cappuccino machine and turns on the European-style lights hanging over the marble counter. With each slight action – warming up the grill, picking a playlist on the stereo – she slowly awakens the café. As she looks up through her rectangular frames, she knows it’s 7:30 a.m. – not by the hands on the clock, but by the group of men standing outside.
Pershyn opens the store a half-hour early on Sunday to let them in and has their order – coffee: black – waiting for them. These patrons have become another part of her morning routine.
According to 20th century poet T.S. Eliot, in his poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
Pershyn has more than likely measured hers with coffee fanatics.
But Caffé Aroma on Elmwood Avenue is not just a place where these fanatics come to drench themselves in cups of black swirling java. This establishment, which took to Elmwood in 1995, has been the home for aspiring and well-to-do artists in the Buffalo area.
One famous Queen City poet, Al Felix, hosted a poetry night at Aroma in the winter months, and spoke to Artvoice in October about the interactions he has with Aroma’s baristas.
“Mary, who works behind the counter [at Aroma], wants me to read one of my love poems at her wedding,” Felix said.
According to barista Dakota Fallis, 21, of Watertown, Felix is currently donating the exuberant amount of money from his late wife Jackie Felix’s paintings. Jackie was an Albright-Knox featured artist who passed away in 2009, and her individual pieces are now worth over $40,000 each.
“Al Felix can be found in here at any given afternoon,” said Michaela Schmidbauer, 29, store manager at Aroma. “At 85, the young man is on decaf.”
However, Caffé Aroma’s coffee isn’t the only thing that attracts the art community. On top of providing a wide list of caffeinated beverages – ranging from breves to café au laits – Caffé Aroma also has an outstanding list of wine and beer. Its Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, an export from East-Central Italy, is the house favorite of Buffalo playwright, poet and director Justin Karcher, 27, who has frequented Aroma for the past 10 years.
“It’s safe to say that I’m the playwright-in-residence,” Karcher said. “Aroma is a perfect atmosphere for artists – young and old alike. It’s more like a Parisian salon where friendships are made and ideas cultivated ... I’ve written many of my plays sitting at the front counter.”
Karcher’s most recent play – a musical adaption of Dracula entitled The Dead English, which opens Oct. 18– was written primarily at Aroma with a wineglass not far from Karcher’s pen.
While Caffé Aroma inspires artwork into creation, it also has artwork built-in. Local sculptor, metalworker and painter David Derner has contributed to some rather frog faceted floor-grates, elm leaves on the patio and even a sculpted tap head for Aroma’s brews.
“[Derner] has been hanging out in the Elmwood Village for a very long time,” Schmidbauer said. “It was actually my husband who said, ‘Dave Derner’s in there every day; he’s an artist and welder; he could make you cast iron grates that will never break,’ and so I asked Dave if he could. He happily obliged.”
Derner has been voted Buffalo’s best sculptor three separate times by Artvoice and one of his sculptures can be seen on D’Youville College’s campus.
According to Schmidbauer, Derner’s work at the café is still ongoing and will continue to mold Aroma’s chic atmosphere.
It’s hard to say what aspect of Caffé Aroma is responsible for its artistic draw. It could be the intimate nature of the small café, the bustling Elmwood area where it holds its form or the staff’s attention to detail in cultivating a true European café experience.
Whatever it is, Caffé Aroma is doing it right.