by Anna Schier
Star Lounge Coffee Bar is the anti-Starbucks. While America’s favorite caffeinated corporate giant pours its dark-roasted conformity across the country, Star Lounge is reintroducing the people of Humboldt Park to the concept of the coffee community, not only through quality coffee, but through quality art as well.
The art shows Star Lounge hosts are a critical element of turning the café’s clientele into a community. Carrie Cooper, who wears many hats at Star Lounge, including co-owner, art director and early-morning barista, observes that “Artists are taking it upon themselves to put their work out there and let people see it. We really want to be a part of that. The whole mission of Star Lounge is to be that throwback coffee shop where people gather and ideas are hatched and connections are made. We look for people who reflect that same idealism.”
Cooper needn’t look far. Star Lounge has become a hub for Humboldt Park’s artistic community. The café’s current featured artist, Shira Ballon, is not only a painter, but a barista as well. Next month’s featured artists, street artist Blütt and Dorian Byrd, who executes comic-book-esque works, are both Star Lounge regulars.
“Blütt has been so gracious to us,” says Cooper. “He’s so aware of his community and interested in what’s going on. Dorian is someone that we just met hanging around the coffee shop and it turned out that he and Blütt went to Columbia together and have known each other for a long time.”
Blütt and Byrd’s familiarity is hardly unusual at Star Lounge.
“First and foremost, we do think of ourselves as a community. We have our paid staff, but we have such an amazing team of volunteers from the area that pitch in when we need it, and that almost feel a sense of ownership of the place. That’s something that we value. The way that the artists reflect that same mentality is that they so often come from our coffee community,” Cooper explains.
This sense of unity and closeness benefits artists and patrons alike, spreading ideas and cultivating intellectual growth and open-mindedness.
Cooper states, “In a coffee shop you have an opportunity to connect with an audience that does not necessarily think of themselves as collectors or art patrons. The traditional coffee house environment breeds discussion, creativity. When you walk into any kind of DIY space, but especially a coffee shop, you do really have the opportunity to connect with a public that may or may not already be interested in art. For me personally that’s a really interesting concept to promote. I feel like anybody can join the artistic conversation. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to be an artist. You don’t have to be high-brow. There is something in art for anybody who wants to get involved. Showing in a coffee shop really does exemplify that openness. We at Star Lounge want to be inviting. We want to allow anybody to come to the table for the conversation. And I think the artists that we put on the wall exemplify that same ideal.”
This rare combination of intelligent, local art without any element of exclusivity sets the foundation for Star Lounge to serve as a space where visitors can learn about art within their own community. Visual art becomes accessible, and, in some cases, attainable.
Cooper notes, “Artwork does sell out of here. Somebody from our neighborhood, coming in to our environment, a coffee shop, is interested in work that they want to live with. It’s about a personal investment at that point, in their own culture, in their own artistic interest. The people who buy work out of this environment recognize how good the work is, but also recognize how it applies to their personal lives.”
Star Lounge is more than a run-of-the mill coffee shop. It is a forum that provides local creative minds with an opportunity to communicate and a platform to educate and share their ideas with the community.
I’d like to see Starbucks do that.
Star Lounge Coffee Bar is located at 2521 W. Chicago Ave. Blütt and Byrd’s show will debut at 6 pm at Star Lounge’s annual Fourth of July event. The event will be ticketed and will include coffee tasting. The Black Bear Combo jazz ensemble will be performing.