Bremen Cafe reopens with Sapphire Game Lounge
When Bremen Café owners Mehrdad Dalamie and Jon Anne Willow lost their liquor license for their Riverwest establishment for 37 days this summer, they decided to make the most of their down time.
The Common Council enforced the hiatus after the owners unknowingly submitted their floor plan too late to be included in the last license review meeting before the Council's summer break.
Hence, the café co-owners rehabbed the wood floors and expanded the space to include The Sapphire Game Lounge, complete with bright blue walls, multiple bar games -- foosball, the classic '80s video game Centipede (it's only a quarter!), darts and pool.
The new lounge also features an eclectic, Sapphire-brand jukebox stocked with genres galore, and includes music by the Flaming Lips, John Coltrane, De La Soul, The White Stripes and Codebreaker -- just to name a few.
"I always wanted a jukebox, and now I have one. It's like a childhood dream come true," says Willow, a single parent.
The Sapphire Lounge adds another dimension to the café that already serves as restaurant, bar and music venue. Bremen's music offerings are as varied as the CDs in the jukebox, with events ranging from an Open Mic (Monday and Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.) to "Mid-Week Mountain Music" on Wednesday evenings.
" 'The Bremen' is everything to everybody," says Willow. "It appeals to students, kids, older people, chess players, hipsters who want to drink bottled beer (and so on)."
The Bremen Café opened in June 2002 as a small coffee shop. Willow says the original plan was to generate enough cash flow to support Vital Source, a free arts magazine founded by Dalamie.
Today, Dalamie owns the publication with Willow and local philanthropist, Chris Abele.
"I saw a copy of Vital at Gil Fest in 2002, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it," says Willow.
Willow was so inspired by Vital Source that she eventually left a high-paying corporate job and cashed in her 401K to work as the editor of the publication. She has never looked back.
"I figured I could save for my retirement, or invest in myself now," says Willow.
Over the years, Bremen Café has become an anchor in the Riverwest neighborhood, along with Fuel Café, Nessun Dorma, Art Bar, Albanese's and a few others. The café is known for its commitment to local art (Greg Schoeneck's rich oil paintings are featured this month), its diverse offering of live music and its great sandwiches.
The "World Famous" Bremen Beef ($6.50), "Burn Mama, Burn" ($5.50) -- a combo of grilled cabbage, hot peppers and provolone -- and the Turkey Delight ($6) are a few of the most popular menu items.
Bremen Café offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving every night until 2 a.m. except Sundays, when the kitchen closes at 11 p.m.
Noshing at The Bremen, however, isn't a "quick bite" experience. The café atmosphere is extremely laid back, and the wait-time for food can be 20 minutes -- or longer. An opportunity, perhaps, to revive dormant Centipede skills.
Micha said: The place is nice, but it'd be great if they reinvest some of their quarters from the atari games and pool into getting a PA system that works properly. I saw a guy who came in on tour and I felt really bad for him because the sound was so crappy. Otherwise, this is a very nice and homey place with great food. Well done!
Frank said: This place sounds great. I'm gonna check it out.
Jon Anne said: Thanks so much for the great article! I want to clarify, though, that we did the floors in the spring, but that's a minor detail.
One thing that might stick out to anyone from my "past life" is the part about my previous career. I had just left a lucrative but depressing job and was freelancing and generally steeped in a crisis of conscience when I came to Vital full time, though I'd been freelancing there while still working for someone else. The rest is spot-on. When I made the long-term decision to invest everything in Vital, I cashed in my security and rolled the dice.
Overall, though, this was a really nice piece. Mehrdad and I appreciate the coverage. Tell your friends to check out the Sapphire Game Lounge soon!
Jason said: That's awesome! I really liked that place as a sort of an unconventional and extremely friendly hole in the wall, and I'm glad to see that things are going well for them.
bay view hopper said: The food is very good, and unusually different from other Riverwest cafes. However, I wouldn't compare it as a staple compared to Albanese's or even Fuel, after only 4 years. Also, it's VERY smokey in there, with alot of underage hipsters.
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