Just out of high school, when my friends and I were at our most industrious and adventurous, we thought about starting a business: we wanted to give our little town in South Carolina a local, "grassroots" coffee shop. No shopping mall location, no corporate affiliations, just a place for people to hang out, drink coffee (if they wanted it; we weren't going to discriminate against loiterers), and enjoy a friendly, native atmosphere. Had my friends and I lived in Nashville at the time (and if we hadn't all been terrible procrastinators), that idea might have come to fruition as a place much like The Frothy Monkey, Nashville's own hometown coffee shop.
For this review, I'll be specifically referring to the Frothy Monkey location in 12 South, because that's the only one we've been to, and Sarah and I have already decided that that's the one we like the most. Fittingly, that particular location is the closest thing to the dream that my friends and I had for our place in Florence, SC. Before we dropped the idea into obscurity (about a month after the original idea surfaced), we started looking for old houses near corporately zoned areas in town. We figured we'd buy something cheap, and get a loan so that we could renovate every room into a space for customers to sit, drink, talk, or just hang out. We even got as far as planning decorations for the interior, with one particularly memorable piece of decor in mind: an old, 1950s tube television, hollowed out and repurposed as a fish bowl.
Much like our abandoned idea for a "homestyle coffee shop," the Frothy Monkey in 12 South appears to be in a space that was once a residential home. If it was still in use as such, it would be a one-to-two bedroom (depending on how much room is in the back) starter home with hardwood floors; a loft-style, second-floor master bedroom; and the kind of front porch that makes for the perfect Sunday afternoon relaxation. Instead of housing familial memories, though, the space if filled with tables, chairs, and the main counter, which is usually at least partially obscured by a long line of dedicated customers. The seating spills out into three areas: the main dining area, near the front counter; a separate, lower-level space, just past the spiral staircase and down a few steps; and the porch-seating: metal tables and chairs and a handful of umbrellas for those particularly sunny days. But exchange the restaurant plan for couches and a TV stand, and you would be drinking a latte and eating your chicken salad sandwich in someone's living room.
There are several things that set The Frothy Monkey apart from the typical coffee shop. Sure, they have local art on the walls, and a huge news board near the bathroom where local merchants can tack flyers and business cards. And there's plenty of seating, including a small bar where customers can sit next to the kitchen; and a couple shelves full of merchandise -- shirts, stickers, cards, and the obvious, branded coffee mug. Of course, that's not to mention the food items: mostly brunch-style options, along with an array of baked goods. But each of these elements has its own little twist. Hung without being too obtrusive, the art feels like decoration, not posters meant just to display a particular artist's talent. The seating feels found and amalgamated, like it took several trips to a local flea market to make the set. The merchandise, even, appears handmade and sits on recessed shelves, like it's not trying too hard to get your attention, but does anyway. Finally, the Monkey offers something that all restaurants, coffee shops, and public, relaxing environments should have: local craft beer on tap. By vacillating between the coffee and beer, one could enjoy a generally even keel day all in one place -- productivity level withstanding.
|The perfect brunch: "The Frothy Monkey" (that's the name of the dish) at The Frothy Monkey.|
Unfortunately, I know our small hometown -- and our collective work ethic -- too well to put much weight on those dreams and imaginings. We probably would have made it a year or two, but then we would have slowed down, found other things to take out time, and put our energy into "more important" endeavors. But luckily for Nashville, the failings of my friends and I did not reach the owners of the Frothy Monkey, who have found a place in the backdrop -- and, often, forefront -- of this town. They're enjoying a success that doesn't appear to have any plans of slowing down. And for that, I -- and everyone who wants some personality with their coffee -- am grateful.