Coffee Clubs Then and Now – Remembrances of Sylacauga by Ginger Clifton
Coffee Clubs Then and Now The oldest coffee house in Europe was reported in 1637, a day when coffee drinkers gathered in what we might call a mini-university because the men who gathered there to drink coffee were writers, artists, poets, lawyers, politicians and philosophers. They listened to each other and contributed their own ideas and became a group just as the coffee- drinking men of Sylacauga do at the fast food establishments of our city where they gather every week day to drink coffee, talk local events, sports, politics, and philosophize about it all. These coffee clubs are not about the coffee, any more than garden clubs are about the garden. After all, fast-food coffee is not to be compared to a cup of chicory-fueled café au lait with a beignet at the Café du Monde in New Orleans. Even Starbucks, which originated in Seattle, is falling out of favor somewhat in the sensible South as too much and too pricey. These gatherings are about much more than coffee. Coffee is an excuse or an “ease,” if you please, to fellowship with friends or family. I was fascinated to receive this wonderful picture of the Dixie Café in Sylacauga from Pat Jones Brannen. The names of the men around the table who have their own mugs on the wall are names many of you will know, starting on the left: Tommie Jones, Fred Hagan, James Jones, Jimmie Stowers, Chris Weber, Leonard Smith, Curtis Liles, Harold Looney, Chief W.D. Ashcraft, and Dewey Riggins. Notice the sign on the wall Early Morning Coffee Club Cups, and Pat has included a note about her Dad on this picture. It says, “Slow talking, fast thinking, James Jones is an unobtrusive, quiet type of fellow who has a ready squelcher for the guys who take a gay delight in poking fun of patrons- the type guys who, if left alone, might discourage some of the timid faction from returning for another coffee session and thus placing themselves in line one step closer towards getting their names etched in gold on the big mugs.”
This strange note dated July, August,1949, is just the kind of writing Bill Irby might have done; but I have not found it in any publication. Surely sounds like there were attendance rules to earn the gold mugs. Does anyone recognize the young girl sitting at the counter, know about the club and its rules, or by some miracle still have one of the mugs that sat on those shelves? Where was the Dixie Café? A call to Dixie Drug and a talk with Ray McDermiad answered that question immediately. It was located next to Watson’s on the site where the Municipal Complex currently sits. Mr. and Mrs. McDiarmid started Dixie Drug and Café there and later moved the drug store it to its current location on North Broadway/Hwy 21. At that time the Café came under new ownership, but Ray has no recollection of the names of the new owners. When I said I wish I had a picture, Ray directed me to Comer Museum & Arts Center where he said there are pictures on the back wall of the back room. Donna Rentfrow, the amiable director, showed me the pictures and was kind enough to copy them and send them to Sylacauga Today so that you could see, too. Notice in the picture that Red’s Place is printed on the window. Red was Ray’s Dad. Also note the snow on the ground. Fascinating to me is the soda fountain which offered curb service. Wonder how that worked? There could have been a window facing the stairway on the right under the Coca Cola sign. All of this history of Sylacauga is so intriguing to me that I have been researching on my own some of the old newspapers of our city, the News, the Advance, and even found a paper called Talladega News. The menu shown shows the name of the establishment to be Dixie Drug and Confectionery, “Red’s Place.” This appears to be a menu at the new location. There were certainly some reasonable prices; the Cold Plate Lunch for 30 cents sounds pretty great! The only problem would be coming up with the 30 cents. This advertisement is from the Sylacauga Advance, May 2, 1935 edition. All of this information and fun came about because of one old picture that I found of my Daddy, John Raymond “Shorty” George at Jones Bakery. I am sure he is smiling down at his baby girl. Special thanks to Janet Jones Vawter, Pat Jones Brannen, Donna Rentfrow, Ray McDiarmid, and each of you who encourage me each time you tell me that you enjoy, as I do, sweet remembrances of days gone by.