Are you punk enough for our soy latte?: Soundtracks of the Cafes of Bloomington, IN

20120919-223190-college-tours-where-to-eat-near-indiana-university-somaSoma cafe, Bloomington; photo from

I find it interesting/ amusing that if you were placed blindfolded in one of the main downtown cafes of Bloomington, you could likely tell which one it was by hearing 20 seconds of the soundtrack.

The Scholars Inn Bakehouse (on the square): something very mainstream.  I’m here right now, and it’s been total classic hits of the corniest/ most old-school variety.  Sam Cooke’s “She was Only 16,” something by Linda Ronstadt, a Steely Dan song, “Shake Your Booty,” Creedence, etc. Absolutely zero gestures towards contemporary hipness of any kind.  It’s as if they’re aiming for visiting parents or even grandparents of IU students.  I have to admit I’m finding the bland medley somewhat soothing and non-distracting as I read, however.  (Right now, I kid you not, Seals and Crofts’ “Diamond Girl”!)

Soma.  In the back room, attempted deathly, library-like silence that can become very uncomfortable if someone actually has the temerity to have a conversation.  (I have to admit that I once participated in a conversation about Derrida (!) here as 15 people tried to work; it was kind of excruciating.)  In the front room, something very- to ridiculously hip/hipster.  Old Sonic Youth, say.  Usually great stuff, although once in a while it feels to me as if they’re trying too hard, and/or the music just gets too grating and distracting, and I wish for just a touch of Bakehouse-style corniness/ background tuneage.  A friend once characterized Soma’s vibe as: “are you punk rock enough for our soy latte?”

Starbucks.  You know what they play there.  Interestingly, this is likely to be much “hipper” than what you’ll be hearing in the (local, non-corporate) Bakehouse.  Something NPR-approved, the Shins or Neko Case or some such, perhaps.  (I generally like it.)  In case you needed to be reminded of the degree to which corporate America has adopted the signifiers of hip.

The Pourhouse.  This is perhaps the most interesting case.  The Pourhouse soundtrack seems to me to tend to cluster in a Venn Diagram overlap where “hipster/ indie/ alternative” overlaps with Christian rock.  Or, let’s say, indie-alt music that would be potentially palatable to someone who likes Christian rock.  Sufjean Stevens would be an obvious example. I find the Pourhouse overall a very pleasant place to work, and it used to be my go-to cafe, but lately I’ve cut back so thoroughly on post-breakfast caffeine that I get through the afternoons on peppermint tea, which they do not stock.

I realize I’m forgetting Rachael’s Cafe.  I haven’t been there for a while and I can’t recall offhand what they’re usually playing.

I tease out of love, cafes of Bloomington.  Rock on!

5 thoughts on “Are you punk enough for our soy latte?: Soundtracks of the Cafes of Bloomington, IN”

  1. I can’t read, think, or work when there are “words on” (as I call all things musical, televised, or involving a certain realtor significant other constantly talking at high volumes on his cell phone). So I only experience the soundscapes of Bton’s cafes in the moment or two it takes to make a punkass Americano. Also a certain loud realtor is fascinated by Christian rock and often changes the car radio to a CR station, unbeknownst to me, who then drives around listening to it for a good 10 minutes before the tell-tale “He is Our Kiiiiinnnnnnggg!” lyric gets pounded out. The only thing I have to say is that it is SO NOT PUNK ROCK TO INSIST ON A QUIET ROOM in a public internet cafe. So I encourage all Bloomingtonians to get in there now and start talking about the stupidest shit possible. Loudly.

  2. hee hee. Good point about the Quiet Room. I know just what you mean about that feeling where you’re listening unsuspiciously and suddenly realize: “wait a minute, what was that about a ‘king’ or a ‘lamb’? Oh no, this is Christian Rock!!”

    1. YES: the word “Savior” is another one of those head-clasping, omg moments when you realize you have lost all punk cred for not noticing for the last three songs.

  3. This is almost as good as being there . . . maybe better, even. Keep it flowing, guys. Thanks for the post and the commentary.

    On another note, I was just remembering a week that we had in High School that was called Religious Emphasis Week. I mean, it was already an Episcopalian high school with chapel every day. We Hindus and Jews (Hindjews) navigated it pretty well, I’d say. But it was all ramped up during Religious Emphasis Week, which was a week when the Young Life Evangelicals came and ran our chapel services. We moved pretty quickly from high church to low church, but boy were those songs catchy.

    Maybe I’ll sing y’all some of the proto-Christian rock songs I learned when I get back. Or maybe not. Here are some lyrics for you, at any rate, by way of a contribution to this conversation. “Blind man stood by the way and he cried (he cried) (3x); Show me the waaaay, show me the waaaay, show me the waaaay, the way to go hooome.” Ultimately, “Jesus stood by the way and he cried . . . I am the waaaay,” etc, etc.

  4. Am in the Eastside Bakehouse and the music is good/tasteful hipster, e.g. right now Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.” am trying to recall if the Eastside location is generally this way, I think maybe so.

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