New Haven, Connecticut itself is a study in extreme contrasts. It’s home to Yale, that venerable and important institution, but also hosts a rough urban population. On the wrong side of town, its not uncommon to find entire blocks of vacant business space. These would be otherwise charming and historical buildings, but they are completely empty due to an unusually slow recovery from the 2008 real estate market crash.
This brings me to Jojo’s. It is located just one block from the historical and architecturally beautiful Yale (architecture critics have called its soaring Gothic campus, laden with detailed embellishments on almost every square inch, one of the most beautiful campuses in America). True to the complicated climate in New Haven at the moment, Jojo’s is also a study in contrasts. It does not hit you over the head with saccharine coffee shop charm the moment you walk in the door. Rather, you step in through the narrow arched stone door with wrought iron gates thrown open during business hours, you observe the mismatched tables and beaten looking pillows on ordinary bench seats, and feel an anonymous welcoming feeling. This is a place you can stay for hours.
You step up to the counter where a women is yelling out coffee and tea orders like she’s slinging meals at the local soup kitchen. Somehow this doesn’t mar the atmosphere, it serves as a reminder that this is a shop where things are normal and not so polished and corporate. There are plenty of unplanned moments in this place.
Only after you grab a seat, do you hear the music playing not too softly in the background. It’s a blend of musical genres that you might listen to in the car by yourself, but probably wouldn’t admit to friends that you like the big band sound of the 30s and 40s, or the occasional heart wrenchingly tragic classical piece.
The people who sit around you are Yale students frowning deeply into their laptops and business people, silently congratulating themselves for slipping past the boss unnoticed to take a few minutes’ break to chat with a coworker over a richly brewed cup of coffee.
I sit here, driven inside by the rain, enjoying a cup of perfectly brewed earl grey while leaning back against a thick and frankly outdated tasseled brocade drape, and listening to Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. The effect is of being inside a warm, eclectic, paint peeling, cocoon.