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News and Features
03.12.08

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Kids Lose Again?

By P. Joseph Potocki


The bouncer says a flat no. You're a few planetary orbits short of that mystical number 21. The sun's setting and you've got a few hours to call your own. What to do now, you teen-to-20 person—where's that place for you amidst this adult wonderland of wine, beer and French Laundrys? This is a question teens have posed since the invention of free time, and now, with ever more closures of every conceivable after-school program, it's a critical issue facing practically every community throughout the North Bay.

Then came Napa's Smoking Cat Cafe. It's a youth-oriented oasis catering to enthusiasms for camaraderie and conversation, music, art and cheap food. Young adults and a smattering of old farts gather there daily, quaffing nonstupefying concoctions in a lively and creatively supportive atmosphere.

The Smoking Cat is run by Jackie Hammond, 23, and her 22-year-old fiancÚ Michael Mendez. The Cat could be a near-dream teen hangout. But the cafe's faced nine residential neighbor complaints since first opening last October.

The house nearest the Smoking Cat is about 60 feet away. The problem, according to proprietor Hammond, is that "we get a natural echo happening, and our closest neighbor has an issue with the noise." That closest neighbor is a family with children—children who need their sleep. Due to cafe racket, the neighboring family have placed their house up for sale and have attempted a commercial re-zone in order to enhance salability. So far no re-zone, no sale.

Now the city of Napa's stepped in and hopes are high that the cafe and homeowners will patch things up in arbitration. Meanwhile, the Smoking Cat, its name culled from Alice in Wonderland's hookah-smoking Cheshire, has adjusted its original plans to offer legal-aged patrons flavored tobacco to smoke from out-of-doors hookahs. With the youth-focus, this is a definitive nonstarter. The Smoking Cat has likewise rescinded its application for a beer and wine license, and has trimmed its Monday night open mic time by an hour to mollify noise concerns.

Aside from Monday night open mic, the Cat features Saturday morning cartoons and a free-of-charge movie each Friday and Saturday night at 7pm. The cafe hopes to expand its live acoustic music offerings, and plans are in the works to launch a weekly "Philosophers' Group" get-together.

According to Hammond, the Smoking Cat "was originally developed as a local coffeehouse for the community, and we'd like to add even more things to enhance the community." Sounds like they're open to ideas. And perhaps, even still to kids. The Smoking Cat Cafe, 1502 Main St., Napa. 707. 255.5174.


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