I was sorry to hear that the doors of the Caffe Tazza on Kit Carson have closed. I hope a new location will be opened, but would like to offer my memories of a most familiar one.
The Caffe Tazza was like a second home for me and my sister, Colette. We spent our childhood and adolescence in the old Taos adobe, sometimes earning our keep by busing or washing dishes or working behind the counter, sometimes just playing DJ or bothering the employees and customers. More than just a first job for us, the café was where we encountered new people in a thriving atmosphere.
Our parents, Dana and Tony, opened the location on Kit Carson in 1988, after a few years of false starts in Guadalupe Plaza and the courtyard of the Stables Art Gallery. Taos welcomed their new business – some of their earliest customers included Joni Tickel, Shama Beach, Cindy Freeman-Valerio, and Julie McTague. Opening a café was a labor of love; they wanted to bring the Italian café culture that they found in San Francisco’s North Beach to their newfound New Mexico town. But it was also simply labor – for the first years and locations, my parents worked every shift and filled every duty, with my sister running around and me in a basket behind the counter.
Eventually it became a stable business and source of steady income for our family, but the work of running it never lessened. My parents worked hard to make the café a welcoming, warm place for the community. They sold food from local bakers and restaurants, such as tamales made by Lina at Abe’s Cantina in Arroyo Seco, and baked goods and soups made by Barbara Paul. They used the café as a place to exhibit the wide range of local artists, hosting the Poetry Circus with SOMOS and Annie McNaughton, putting on plays by Karen Thibodeau, and presenting live music by Jenny Bird and Stephanie Lee. They hired Terry Wolff to create the recognizable coffee cup sign, and Eric Anderson to paint the colorful mural on the original counter. The walls of the café also regularly displayed works by artists such as Margaret Nes, Larry Herrera and Barry Dinowitz. Most of all, the space fulfilled that imperative duty of cafés: cultivating relationships and conversation among locals as well as visitors.
My sister and I observed and sometimes took part in all of this, and I like to think we contributed something, if only our rambunctious personalities – small but trusty aspects of the atmosphere. But the place contributed something bigger to us: it helped shape us. The people of the Tazza were friends, mentors and extended family: regulars like Larry Audette, Tom Meyers and Sambhu, employees such as Carol Keiter, Noelle Anderson, Edwina McLaughlin and many others whose full names I don’t know. Another dear regular was Teddy Nero, who recently passed away in Albuquerque and will always be remembered as a unique character with a kind heart. The employees, regulars, tourists, artists, hippies, whether globetrotters or longtime residents, taught us, played with us, laughed and talked with us, and were simply there, part of our purview, our bubble of warmth and liveliness that we took for granted.
In addition to the people, the place itself was a large part of our existence. The courtyard and surrounding area was truly a child’s paradise: thick adobe walls to sit on, trees to climb, brambles to get lost in, galleries to wander, and the precious Taos Bookshop to spend hours upon hours in. The landlady, Bibiana González, and owners of surrounding businesses, such as Deborah Sherman of the Bookshop, were kind and helpful to me and my family, and the building, yards, and parking lot around the café was a treasured corner of town.
Much has changed in Taos in the last 30 years. Every time I return home from New York for a visit, a local business has closed or changed hands, new ones have opened. But not so much changes that the town loses its spirit; it doesn’t give in to superstores and has not become overrun with chains – small businesses continue to thrive. My father sold the business in 2001 and I have not been part of the community since 2003, so I cannot speak for the past 15 years. I’m sure new owners have left their mark on the café, different employees added their charm, and new groups of regulars have lounged by the front window or in the courtyard.
My sister and I always found comfort in the fact that the Tazza stayed open. It remained a staple of Taos, of Kit Carson. It will be truly difficult for both of us to visit our hometown and not be able to stop in to the old place for a cappuccino, to see the new small changes and find peace in the things that never changed: the creaking wooden floors, the musty smell of an old adobe combined with that of rich coffee, the blue gates, the dusty parking lot. I know the Caffe Tazza has meant much to many people – those who still live in Taos, those who left a long time ago, those just passing through. Our parents had a vision of community and good coffee, and that vision combined with the unique personality of Taos created a place that will always be remembered, even if it’s no longer housed in a most beloved physical space.