Something New, Something Blue 

By Brian Staker

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If you pass through the Sugar House area, it’s hard not to recognize Bluekats Coffee as a fixture on the corner of 11th East and 21st South for years. But recent changes in management have made the establishment even more remarkable.

New co-managers David Berg and Sarah Arnold worked there several years ago and were looking for a place of their own to open. They took a cross-country road trip last summer, and made it a point to visit coffeehouses, taking notes of particular things they liked. Many of the best exhibited local flavor, and mixed coffee with entertainment.

When Blue Boutique and Bluekats owner Tony Martinez chose recently to concentrate on running his new store and his own photography, the timing worked out perfectly. “A group of investors subleased the coffee shop,” says Berg, “and we felt we had the expertise to manage it.”

The schedule was beefed up to feature live music every weekday and almost every night. “Playing up the jazzyness of the name,” Berg notes, “we have added a lot of live jazz, like Thingus and the No Star Jazz Band. We’ve had everything from jazz to indie rock to the folk banjo of Bob Moss.

“As a special treat one week, amazing multi-instrumentalist Marianne Osier—visiting from New York to play oboe with the Utah Symphony—came down and played oustide.” Add Thursday open mike and collaboration with The Local Muse magazine for literary night Sundays, and you have entertainment options as diverse as the menu.

Berg plans some remodeling for the location, both to make coffee more prominent—placing the coffee bar in the center of the room—and to leave more room for seating. But the interior look will also be affected by ongoing art installations. “We hope to revive the Sugar House gallery stroll,” Berg comments, beginning with Derek Dyer exhibiting his “Glow People” in November. “We’ll change some of the décor, although we’ll keep the large cats painted by Jon Bean. We’ll remain open later than the regular gallery stroll, which stops about 9 p.m. It’s getting cold now, but we’ll try to have music outside when the mercury rises enough.”

Activism is also important to him. “We had hoped to have candidate forums during the election season, but it got too late. It’s the perfect place and atmosphere to mingle with people seeking to represent the public. We have a pretty full schedule.”

“Most everyone who works here is either a musician or an avid music promoter,” Berg adds. “Some bands that played have been electric, but nothing too loud. Violet Run and Ether Orchestra are a couple of examples. When you see a band here, it’s different from seeing them anywhere else. Musicians from local groups like Carlo said they had more fun playing on our patio than anywhere else in town.”

When it comes to community, Berg doesn’t just talk the talk. “We’ve sponsored local events by providing coffee for readings at Sam Weller Books and the 9/11 anniversary vigil at Liberty Park. It adds a lot. We’ve also sponsored Sugar House Community Council meetings. It gives people an incentive to take part.”

Perhaps the most noticeable changes since the new management took over is that Bluekats has had heads turning from automobiles as well as the steady foot traffic in the neighborhood. Berg maintains, “We think we’ve played a big role in the revitalization of Sugar House. It’s a happening corner. The changes we’ve made appeal to a broader audience. Before, it was just a lot of kids hanging out. Now the coffee house serves a really diverse mix—people of all ages enjoying coffee, music and atmosphere.”

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