because good food is long overdue

I just learned of a restaurant in SE Portland called the Arleta Library Bakery Cafe. It appears to be indeed a bakery and cafe, but not a library. Their brunch is reportedly good. Sure, I’m interested in eating there but what intrigues me more is how the eatery uses the concept of “library” to convey not books, but quality, wholesomeness, and maybe even a reverent kitsch. Is this something we can use?

In a less abstract sense, are there any library sponsored spaces that are standalone cafes? A library could fulfill its mission to promote culture and community by opening a cafe for laptopping, renting meeting spaces, and hosting performances/art shows/movies. Taking it a step further, could you imagine the popularity of a neighborhood arcade where swipes of a library card are used instead of tokens? Don’t balk. This is essentially going on now in the libraries that haven’t banned Runescape.

I’m not suggesting that this model replace a main library or even a branch necessarily. However, it might make more sense to separate these functions into a distinct space rather than trying to squeeze different concepts into one place and making fewer people happy as a result.

5 thoughts on “because good food is long overdue”

  1. Arleta was a branch of the Library Association of Portland (now Multnomah County Library) from 1918-1971. I’m not sure if it’s the same building/location or not, but I would guess so.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s refreshing to find someone appreciating our use of the library concept rather than condemning us for our lack of books!

    We called our restaurant the Arleta Library Cafe for many reasons–none having to do with the presence of books for lending–which include:
    1. Libraries are public spaces where people go for self-enrichment, relaxation, and engaging with others; we wanted to reinforce our commitment to spaces that encourage these activities
    2. Once upon a time, there was an Arleta Library (not too near us, mind you) which stood at the nexus of a bustling neighborhood where streetcars converged and pedestrians conducted their daily business. Since the decline of “streetcar neighborhoods” like ours in the postwar years, people have increasingly relied on automobiles to run their daily errands–including their trips to the library. We aimed to remind people of the notion of having all services in a neighborhood within walking distance.
    3. Our lack of books allows us to encourage conversation about libraries. “This is a library? Where are the books?” “Why would you expect books simply because it’s called ‘library’?” I think communities would be well served by investing in tool libraries, toy libraries and more means of “sharing” in this age of mass-production and overconsumption.

    I’m sure there were more, but reverent kitsch (as you pointed out) was certainly primary among them.

    Loving where the conversation takes us,
    Sarah Iannarone
    Owner, Arleta Library Bakery * Cafe

  3. thanks for the link love, Aaron. Of my three favorite breakfast places in town, two of them are Foster-Powellish — Arleta, natch, and Bar Carlo are both excellent. And Arleta has great, great baked goods (by Sarah Iannarone, who is also a bicyclist). Great food, great service…

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