Last Chance Berkeley Cafe
by Steed Dropout
Sept. 20, 2015
WILL IT BELONG TO THE AGES?
Although up for sale, Berkeley’s oldest espresso squeeze is not going quietly into Hamlet’s speculative sleep of death.
The Caffe Mediterranean may prolong its swan song as it drifts between to what it might have been and what it has become—a cheap eats and last stand conversation center.
What it might have become was a Pakistani restaurant; what is has become is a coffee house dive.
Owner Craig Becker, after saving the Med from entrepreneurial Pakistani’s, has offered to give the Med to whomever will renovate the espresso emporium/eatery in Becker’s image: a gorgeous well-executed place.
A gorgeous place with clean floors and an additional balcony, new counter, and a downstairs rest room to accommodate disabilities.
Naturally, the new owners would pay the rent, and Becker would collect that rent. Then there’s a little matter of what could be a half million dollars in city code upgrades.
As the Med’s future remains to be seen, Medheads, who have used the cafe as their personal vacation homes are facing a crisis. The sale of the Med would fracture the social network of Medheads, who are accustomed to schmoozing their Med friends or hassling Med customers, naive Cal undergrads.
Some Medheads have been in attendance at this nexus of noise since it opened in 1956.
The likely-hood of the med heads’ social network relocation to, even a half block away—to Peet’s—is unlikely.
That’s why Ed Monroe, Telegraph’s artist-in-residence is depicting the last days of the Med in one of his hyper-realistic paintings.
Monroe’s interest in the Caffe Med goes back to the 1970’s, when he documented the cafe, while developing his hyper-realistic style.
“This may be the last chance,” to depict the Med, Monroe told me recently, “before it is sold.”
Monroe, usually, up-beat, is a doom-sayer among Med heads—most of whom prefer to believe that the likelihood of the Med being sold is zilch.
As one grey-beard put it, “why would a buyer agree to pay as much as $500,000 to improve Becker’s property?”
Even if Monroe is wrong about the Med being sold, the possibility of that sale has goaded him into capturing the last days of the Med.
He calls it “Last Chance,” his last chance to capture the Med.
There’s something about the Caffe Mediterraneum. Monroe’s painting was sold for $2,500, even before its completion. That’s quite a pay-day for a Telegraph Avenue street artist.
Berkeley Reporter is in that painting. The last time Monroe did a Med painting was in the mid-seventies. The characters in that painting are dead.
Forty-five years later…it’s Berkeley Reporter’s turn to play dead.
More photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/berkboy/