By Alison Kuronen
From outward appearances The Acoustic Coffeehouse doesn’t hold much to catch the eye. In fact, if you’re not looking carefully you’re likely to miss it. Nestled in the middle of West Walnut St. within walking distance of ETSU and the infamous Tree Streets, the first thing you truly notice is the art deco sign on the adjacent building, clinging to an era of peace, love, and well… much needed clean clothes in the 60’s.
Pulling into the small row of parking spaces, you may start wondering if you’ve come to wash clothes or have a local brew. All of that changes once you’ve crossed through its front doors, as prepared or not my friend, down the rabbit hole you go. Quite suddenly and pleasantly you will find yourself whisked to a magical place where debate is the sport of the day, music is tangible, and the smells of fresh brewed coffee mixed with some of the most delectable treats and dishes envelope your senses.
Crossing the front patio you are more likely to first be greeted by four legged friends than two legged ones; each of whom casually come over one by one to give you a nudge and a sniff of approval, only to flop back down in the shade to catch a nap while their humans enjoy a chat about Socrates, or the latest novel they’ve read, or their most recent white water rafting excursion. These four legged patrons bring about a sense of coming home even further as they find your arrival interesting, but not quite interesting enough to give up a lazy snooze on a hot summer day.
At the Acoustic, everyone is welcome and everyone is equal. It matters not; young, old, rich, poor, polka dotted, purple, properly educated, or the scholar of travel and experience; you are genuinely accepted and welcomed upon arrival. Here you are treated more as an old friend who has just returned from a long journey rather than a stranger, and all here appear to be awaiting the news of your travels and are eager to share theirs as well.
Time seems to stop at the Acoustic and it appears to no longer hold value in this magical place. Music, not the kind incessantly being pumped through the airways nowadays; but real, living, breathing music created by local artists fills your senses as you make your way to the wooden bar and the friendly staff there to greet you. Depending on the time you pop in you may be treated to poetry readings, slow strumming of a guitar by a local musician honing his skills, a riveting debate, or just a quiet reading session and the slow sipping of coffee between pages.
Even the simplest of foods at the Acoustic are done with love, flair and art. A grilled cheese sandwich transforms from something bland your mother fed you when she didn’t feel like mussing in the kitchen, to a gourmet sandwich filled with organic cheeses (of course there’s never just one type of cheese), served on the finest of thick hearty toast, crisped to perfection with real fresh butter. Fresh, wholesome ingredients can be found in every bite no matter the dish, and everything is made with love by the friendly staff, who in their own right are just as eclectic, talented, and artistic as the patrons who frequent the Acoustic.
On certain nights, laughter spills from its’ humble doors out into the streets as local comedians try their hat in standup comedy. The Acoustic for many years has been the place where local musicians, artists, writers, and the like have all come to congregate and encourage each other in pursuing their dreams. A gathering place for the minds in the community that think outside the box, who might not fit into the norm so to speak, but are so vital to a healthy, whole, intellectually rich community.
If you’re not the indoors type you can make your way to the infamous back door that leads to Next Door, which almost seems secret and magical in and of itself. Soon you will find yourself emerging onto a beautiful terrace complete with trees (not planted, growing as they originally stood and should), picnic tables, umbrellas, and well, more music, art, and good conversation over a local brew as the Southern sun streams through the leaves onto the mismatched bricks that make up the patio as sparks of imagination ping from brilliant mind to brilliant mind.
The Acoustic Coffeehouse has been an iconic figure in the downtown Johnson City area for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first places I was taken to when I moved here from California and has held a special place in my heart since the first day I crossed its threshold. Seeing it close its doors as we begin the New Year, one can only hope that the wonderful staff and patrons of this magical place will find a new place to meet and thrive, outside the proverbial box, where music floats through the air, intellectual debate is once again the sport of the day, laughter spills out onto the streets, and four legged friends can laze in the sun. To the end of a wonderful era in Johnson City and the unfortunate death of an icon, I bid you farewell.