Last night, Mars Cafe put on “Space Camp,” a celebration of its six years in the Drake University neighborhood of Des Moines, featuring the music of Billy and the Black Spot, The Poison Control Center, and Christopher the Conquered, the first band that ever played there. Mars Cafe will close its doors August 18.
When asked what Mars Cafe has meant to me over the past six years, the answer is easy: everything. The hard part is how to describe “everything.” I wouldn’t be who I am today without the years I spent working at Mars. At some point during the more than 8,000 hours I spent behind the bar, I realized I was no longer making coffee for customers but for friends, a community full of friends.
There is a social side of coffee that often gets lost in the drive-thru. I’ve never been accused of having the fastest service in town, but I’ve always had the best. People came in for more than just a coffee or a skim latte; people went to Mars to feel like they were a part of something, and they were. Just coming into Mars Cafe made you feel like you were a part of our community, and you were.
I’ll never forget the night Amedeo told me that The Flaming Lips would headline the 80/35 Music Festival. I’ll never forget the day Hollywood took over the cafe to film a scene for The Experiment. I’ll never forget Space Prom. I’ll never forget watching Joe Biden tell us that he wanted to be in the White House. I’ll never forget the night Ben Milne launched Dwolla. I’ll never forget the time Andrew Bird came in. I’ll never forget the time my wife told me she was pregnant, or when she called me at 6 am telling me we needed to get to the hospital.
I didn’t even drink coffee when I started at Mars. It was just something that my parents kept in the freezer; now it’s my life. I decided to apply for a job at the cafe because I thought it would be a nice bit of income to supplement my budding radio career. Over time, it became obvious, that career was more or less complementing my budding coffee career. I saw it as an opportunity to combine both of my passions; I figured I’d just do a radio show at the cafe.
Over the course of three and a half years, Scented Vinyl brought in musicians from all over the state of Iowa. People literally drove hours to sit and play records with me at Mars Cafe. Honestly, I never figured out the direction or point of the show. It didn’t matter if there was a crowd or not; sometimes it was just my wife and kids watching. But by the end of each show, I had formed a special friendship, a common love for music and where we came from: Iowa.
I’ve served coffee to literally everyone, from homeless people to presidential hopefuls. I’ve formed friendships with hundreds of people, from all around the state and country, because of this little coffee shop. When Phil James hired me to open Sunday mornings at Mars Cafe, I would have never fathomed that it was the start of one of the most influential periods of my life. My children grew up at Mars; my son cried when I told him we were closing.
The most important thing that everyone should learn from the closing of Mars Cafe is the importance of supporting local business. Be proud of where you’re from and get involved with the community you’re a part of. Support local business, local music, local art, local everything! Be proud of where you come from — the grass isn’t any greener outside of Iowa (because of our fertile soil). In a couple of weeks, the Mars Cafe chapter of my life will be over. But like any good book, I’m not going to pause to start the next chapter. This book is going to just keep getting better and better.