Caffetto keeps brewing

Uptown’s Caffetto Cafe, located at the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and 22nd Street, is one of the last coffee shops of its kind.

Caffetto Cafe regular Mark Bailey paints a portrait of friend Kehlyn Lumley outside the cafe in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Caffetto Cafe regular Mark Bailey paints a portrait of friend Kehlyn Lumley outside the cafe in Minneapolis on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013.

by Emily Eveland

It’s not often you stumble upon a drooling French Mastiff named Skinny when wandering through a coffee shop, but when you’re at Caffetto, it’s just part of the routine.

Catering to local artists, musicians, mathematicians and French Mastiffs alike, Caffetto is one of few remaining coffee shops doubling as an intellectual and artistic hub.

“There’s always been artists hanging out here. … It’s been sort of a collaborative place for people,” barista Matthew Harris said.

The shop’s character is apparent immediately: The front room is lined with 122 paintings of ships. When a customer gave the owners a velvet portrait of an old sail boat, others started bringing ship-related artwork in hoards, sometimes in exchange for coffee.

Besides the ships, the cafe’s walls feature a new local artist every 30 days and, according to Harris, there’s generally a four- to five-month waiting list.

Mark Bailey, a full-time oil painter and part-time sage, has had his work showcased at Caffetto. He often smokes hand-rolled cigarettes on the wooden bench by the garden in front of the cafe, pushing his long blonde hair behind his ear while sketching his surroundings.

Bailey dropped out of school in eighth grade to pursue painting and hasn’t had a conventional job in more than a decade. His successes make him an inspiration for Caffetto regulars like Brian Roberts, who considers Bailey a spiritual teacher.

“We share our experiences and our theories about what this place is — the universe,” Roberts said.

Roberts, guitarist and singer for the band Fergus Plinko, makes his living in and around Caffetto by busking and giving tarot readings for $20 apiece.

 “I generally use tarot readings to pay the rent and busking pays for food,” he said. “And coffee.”

According to Roberts, a group of carpenters frequents Caffetto, sharing ideas and leads for new projects.

“They network. If one of them gets a job and needs other guys, there’s like six carpenters who hang out here,” he said.

For some, Caffetto’s regulars become a second family. Caitlin Connery Harris, local photographer and creator of the online magazine Crooked Teeth, has frequented Caffetto for the past two years. She first sought out the cafe as refuge from the recent addition of a 1-year-old sibling to her family.

“I love sitting inside during the winter. It just feels like a living room,” she said.

Connery Harris was interrupted mid-thought by David Jensen, a founder of 612 Film Connect who was directing a short film called “Method” and needed her to sign a waiver if she planned to stay outside.

For Bailey, such happenings are unworthy of concern.

“Folks here just kind of do what they do,” he said.

Bailey paused, sipping his coffee and gazing upwards at nothing in particular.

Then he said that the people of Caffetto — the owners, the people who go every day, the people for whom the cafe is a refuge — don’t care about what anyone thinks about it.

“And I’m pretty sure that’s what makes this space kind of immune to a lot of the nonsensical games that deteriorate the quality of other kinds of community spaces,” he said. “But that’s just a suspicion.”