Okay, first — free wi-fi. Who doesn’t love free wi-fi? It’s free, it’s wireless, and it’s…I don’t know. Something that begins with fi. Fizzy, maybe. Doesn’t matter. It’s free and you can connect to the Intertubes, and that’s what counts.
Second, there’s a coffee shop that also serves an Italian soda, which is a lot like an egg cream. It’s not an egg cream; I’m confident they don’t use U-bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup, which is absolutely essential in the making of an egg cream. But considering this is the Midwest, it’s close enough. The basics are there: seltzer, milk or cream, flavored syrup in a chilled glass. It’s light and cool and refreshing, which is what you want in the summer. They serve coffee as well, of course.
Finally, there are three floors filled with stuff salvaged from hither and yon. Not just hither, mind you, and not just yon — hither AND yon. Chicago, St. Louis, New York, London — you get the idea. Hither. Yon.
So, to recap: free wi-fi, Italian soda (almost an egg cream) and coffee, architectural salvage. All in the same old warehouse building. It’s called West End Salvage and Coffee Shop. It’s located directly beside the 9th Street viaduct and three blocks from the County Jail. I love this place.
They don’t mind if folks just wander around and look at stuff. Hell, they encourage folks to just wander around and look at stuff. “Hey folks,” they say, “go wander around. Look at stuff.” And that’s exactly what folks do. The place is sort of a combination of a maze and a warren, so you often hear the voices of folks you can’t see, saying things like “Ooh, look at that” or “What the hell is that thing?” or “I want that — I don’t know what it is or what it does, but I want it.”
I’ve said each of those things myself.
It’s the sort of building where you step around a massive wooden cupboard and find a stereopticon sitting on a beat-up old printer’s cabinet. Or an un-restored organ standing beside a plastic double-sink, near a crate containing a collection of large metal gears. If you’re ever in need of a tin box, this place has several dozens in sizes ranging from tiny enough to fit a pair of earrings to enormous enough to bury a rhinoceros. And chairs, lawdy these people have chairs. And mirrors. All over the fucking place, chairs and mirrors. And tables. And and and.
All those mirrors can be startling. You’re always catching reflections out of the corner of your eye. Your own reflection, the reflections of other people. And since the mirrors are often semi-hidden behind other stuff, those reflections can be a tad startling. You’re not always expecting to see a face peep out from under a table, or from behind a sign written in the Tibetan alphabet explaining something about goat husbandry.
There are lots of signs here. Hanging on the wall, leaning against an old sofa, standing on tables. Signs for products, instructional signs, place-name signs. Even an old sign written in bad English explaining the rules for prostitutes wanting to do business with the U.S. 8th Army stationed in Korea.
Some of the stuff you see has been refurbished or repurposed. Some of it’s in the process of being refurbished or repurposed (it’s not uncommon to hear the sound of power tools whining). But most of the stuff is just casually strewn about by folks with an intuitive sense of color and aesthetics. You really get the sense that somebody made a deliberate decision to arrange that blue male torso between that pair of old floodlights.
You see that same sense of unhurried thoughtfulness in design almost everywhere in the building. Almost everywhere.
Oh, there are areas where stuff is just gathered higgledy-piggledy, but there are enough instances where the arrangement is so aesthetically pleasing that it can’t be accidental.
At some point you stop saying to yourself “That would be a great photo prop.” At some point you stop asking yourself “If I owned that, where would I put it?” At some point you realize you just want to move into the building.
I’m told that the West End Salvage & Coffee folks have a make-over show on the Home and Garden Television cable channel. You know the type of show I’m talking about. Some folks are bored with their normal old living room and want to turn it into something that’s more representative of who they are as individuals — so they hire somebody to design and furnish a room for them. One of those shows.
I haven’t seen it (though I’m a big fan of HGTV). I haven’t bothered to watch it on account of who cares? I mean, there are dozens of those shows, and West End Salvage is much too cool to be wasted on that stuff. They ought to be doing shows on the stuff they salvage — where it came from, who made it, why the salvage job has become necessary, what the salvaged thing does, and what eventually happens to it.
I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely watch a show that told me the general history of stereopticons, and where this one was made, and by whom, and who originally bought it, and who’d buy it now, and what they intended to do with it. That would be SO much more interesting to watch than seeing some folks have their dining room re-done.
On the other hand, if they did a really cool show then maybe West End Salvage and Coffee would be overrun by tourists. So maybe it’s for the best. Because, c’mon — free wi-fi, something sorta kinda close to an egg cream from the coffee shop, and floors of architectural salvage? Who wants to fuck that up by having hordes of fat-walleted HGTV fanboys and girls cluttering up the place? Not me.
Ok, now there’s a second stop on my hypothetical trip to Des Moines (after the summer farmer’s market…and I don’t care how far apart they are from each other). And, btw, every time I read loltexing I thought it was loltexting and was like, “wow, were they ever ahead of their time!!”
I had the same response to loltexing. A combination of LolCats and texting, maybe. And the warehouse is only about 5 blocks from the west end of the farmer’s market. Hell, you can almost throw a frisbee that far.
I spent some time down in New Orleans in the mid 90s. I found a pearl of an establishment named Igor’s. It was a combination 24 hour laundromat/bar and grill complete with pool table and all. I loved the novelty of playing stripes and solids knocking back screwdrivers while waiting for my underwear to dry.
When I moved to SF the Bay Area, I had no idea about the salvage culture that comes part and parcel. Berkeley itself has multiple salvage yards, one of which is the approximate size of an airplane hanger. But the culture isn’t just restricted to the yards. A couple of years ago the owner of a large house-turned-student-rental-unit decided to sell his place. He gave the last tenants the incentive of the last two months free of rent if the students agreed to gut the house of all it’s accouterments. By the time they were finished, they piled up everything from furniture to sinks and a hot water heater along half a block of the sidewalk. It was a stunning sight, and one the pissed off the neighborhood. Still it took no more than three days for random scavengers in pick-up trucks to pick the sidewalk clean.
P.S. Did you pick up and thingamagigies or doohickies?
I’m fascinated by salvage culture. It’s sort of like high-end hoarding. But no, I’ve never actually bought anything from West End. The things I want most aren’t cheap. They have about a half dozen chrome and leather stools that look like they were designed for use in a dirigible that I’ve developed a mad passion for — all sorts of shiny levers and gears. But they each cost a million dollars (or so). They’re not even kept in the same place or, I think, on the same floor — but oh, they’re gorgeous.
I tend to avoid whining power drills… holey too much drama.
Some day they’ll make puns illegal. On that day, I’ll help you out with bail money.
“salvage culture..it’s sort of like high-end hoarding.” – yes.
this is like my dream house. still on the hunt for: a wolf dress form, a stuffed bear, a large victorian hair art piece, and a stereoscope that isn’t $100. it helps being married to a man who isn’t afraid of garbage (quite literally). what started out as necessity as a kid shopping second-hand has turned into a life-long obsession – for both of us.
Lisa, it’s a wonderful place…but it’s pretty much tailored to the high-end market. I think they must refurbish a lot of stuff and sell it to trendy restaurants and places like that. Still, it’s fun to wander around and look at everything.
Where is the West End Salvage and Coffe Co. located?
22 9th Street in Des Moines. There’s parking on Cherry Street and an entrance to the rear of the shop. Or you can enter on 9th under the viaduct.
I would probably end up camping in this place.
John, for the first time I have to question your judgment. Camping would allow you to become habituated to the place. Better, I think, to visit periodically, so that each time you arrive you’re re-astonished at the depth of peculiarity this place maintains.
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