A look at Fire ‘ Water Caf

Located on 5 Old South St. in Northampton, the cafe Fire ‘ Water may not be the best place to get in the mood for a wild kegger, but it’s definitely a pleasant, intellectual little coffee shop with chill music, and it’s probably a better place to study than your average dorm room.

Barista and Northampton local Sarah-Pepper Ryan describes the cliental as “a little bit of everybody. But everyone’s laid back. Most people leave whatever stress they have outside when the walk through the door. The cafe is very approachable. People here are always really nice. Even when it’s crowded, its relaxed. Nobody pushes.”

According to Ryan, the music, live seven nights per week, includes a medley of “a lot of folk, reggae, electronic, spoken word and open mike.
Wednesday is open poetry night and Monday is open night for singing.” On Sunday night the sparse mellow crowd corresponded to the low-key instrumental jazz, including mostly small groups clean-cut of students. A middle-aged man sat alone and watched the musicians. A couple of young woman lounged together reading books. But last month’s performance of “Gooselove ‘ Antara” drew a wilder packed house of tattooed, shaved head activists.

UMASS NSE student from New Mexico, Sara McCormick encourages even the uninitiated to give the poetry night a try. “I’m not an avid poetry reader, but it was really awesome. There were really good people. Afterwards a jazz band played. I know absolutely nothing about poetry, but everything about it had a really good feeling.”

The off kilter ambiance is truly unique, combining new age spirituality with hippy social defiance – but in a mellow way. With an entrance that’s easy to miss, painted brick walls, and a low, bare ceiling that reveals the rafters and the piping, this comfy little hole in the wall feels like a sophisticated version of that basement you hung out in during high school. Beneath the hanging plants, the walls are covered in eclectic photos and drawings: a black and white glossy of Elvis, a faded 19th Century photo of an elderly American Indian, the picture of a little girl kissing a pregnant woman’s swollen belly, and a sketch of a Middle Eastern Village. Warm lighting is provided by an abundance of colorful outdoor-style Christmas lights, and an illuminated paper globe that hangs in the center of the room.

Perhaps most differentiating of this particular cafe is the alter in the corner, dedicated to the owner’s son Jesse Drooker. “One thing the owners like people to know,” explains Ryan, “is that Fire ‘ Water was build around the spirit of Jesse Drooker, who was born six years ago with a heart condition and lived 19 days. He’s been nicknamed the Salmon Boy, because he lived his life fighting upstream. Now the owners like to say he’s swimming in spiritual waters.” Decorating the alter, a dark wooden boudoir with a mirror backboard, are pictures of the infant Jesse, toys, rocks, and fresh flowers. Hanging above are a butterfly mobile and a painted cardboard star.

Leslie Welts, a UMASS third year music student calls the niche her “favorite cafe,” explaining, “I really like the atmosphere. It’s really warm and has a lot of music I’m drawn to. I just enjoy it.”

Apart from the expected assortment of coffees and teas, you can also get appropriately “granola”-style cookies and sandwiches. “All the food’s vegetarian,” advertises Ryan, “and about 50% of its Vega.” After a brief pause she admits, “Well, we do have tuna fish, but all the food’s natural.”