Searching Nashville For Memphis

Cafe Coco
Cafe Coco

My life is changing, and I need a place to go.

Here’s the thing. I quit writing at 25 after I got my MFA. I started teaching full-time high school then later had kids, blah, blah, blah. But somehow, my desire to write remained intact just enough to get me to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2013 and awaken my sleeping writing life. It was reborn. I was reborn.

At the time, my kids were 3 and 1.

Looking back, I can’t believe they were so young. I did what I had to do. Ever since, I’ve been writing with kids running around me, asking for more milk, pooping in diapers, hanging on my neck, and all the rest. Not ideal, but not impossible. Except that I have finally reached that next stage in life: kindergarten!

My son is in kindergarten. My daughter is in preschool three days a week. I’ve scaled back my teaching obligations with Vol State. This semester has stretched before me as beautiful promise.

Funny how an empty house still makes a lot of noise.

I can write in my small home. I’ve done it. I’m not ever going to claim that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to write at home with kids. But now that I have the opportunity, I would prefer to find a place without a beeping dishwasher, whining dog, dancing dust bunnies. At the suggestion of my neighbor, Emily, I set out on a coffeehouse tour of Nashville to find a comfortable writing spot.


First of all, Nashville loves a good coffeeshop. Like, LOVES it. They cram into the shops for caffeine and meetings and moments, I guess. Almost every place I went, people were everywhere, seats were endangered, wait times were, well, noticeable.

I decided that this should not be a review of coffeeshops. I’m no coffee connoisseur. And many of these places are chic, sophisticated, creative venues that simply weren’t a perfect match for my writing needs. In no particular order, I went to Atmalogy, Eighth and Roast, Crema, Ugly Mugs, Steadfast, Frothy Monkey, and Barista Parlor. I was already familiar with spots like The Well and Bongo Java.

Beanbag room at Atmalogy
Bean bag room at Atmalogy
The Frothy Monkey
The Frothy Monkey
Barista Parlor
Barista Parlor

But it wasn’t until I went to ONE LAST PLACE. I was tired of the tour. I would just go back to The Well, which is half a mile from my house and lovely enough. But another neighbor of mine, Lea, knows me pretty well. She said, “I really think you should try Café Coco. You’d like it.”

She was spot on.


Café Coco is half coffeeshop/half bar. It’s open 24 hours a day. Apparently, more people go there to close out a night versus starting the day like me, but that’s part of what I liked about it. There was a collection of servers and bartenders getting off their late night shifts and having beers on the patio at 8am.

Crumbs, beers, and birds
Crumbs, beers, and birds

You have to protect your food, or it will be fair game for the hungry finches eyeing you down. The patio was large and breezy and covered in lights and flowers and vines. It took me a moment to realize why this somewhat dingy venue made me feel at home.

It felt like Memphis.

I got my MFA in Memphis. I moved there knowing no one. For 8 years, I lived in Midtown: a hive of creativity, writing, music, and food like none I had ever known. I grew as a writer surrounded by artistic souls. Rock shows at the Hi Tone and trivia at the P&H were just part of everyday life.

Memphis throbs with pride and pain, the two being difficult to separate. Out of this comes an artistic energy that I miss. I wrote my thesis at a coffeeshop called Republic Coffee on Madison Avenue. I went every day like a job and sat in a booth, drinking hot tea and revising.

I miss that so much.

In the Memphis tradition, Republic Coffee, which was also half coffeeshop/half bar, failed. Everyone loved it, but it was mismanaged in some way. The business was reborn a few years later in a new location on Walnut Grove where it still is today.

But it’s not the same to me. It’s just not the same. So that perfect place is forever a ghost in my mind.

I can’t say that Café Coco is the same magic, but it’s a suitable substitute. Nothing can replace that first time I took myself seriously as a writer, treating it like a job, working toward something. However, after too long of forgetting that girl and what she wanted, I’m back working toward something, treating it like a job, and writing. This challenge with Hananah has not just pushed, but it has propelled me into being better about giving writing its space in my life. I need that space, and I found a physical space that fosters my needs for creativity. A place that reminds me to write for me, past and present, and nothing else.

And I can’t say it hurts to have the option of a coffee or a beer while doing it.


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