NORTH ADAMS -- On a scale of 0 to 10, how nervous would you be to get up on stage and perform? On a recent Thursday at the Parlor Café at 303 Ashland St., shyness took the stage in varying degrees during one of many poetry slams.
Seven poets got up in front of a lime-green backdrop, with or without a microphone, and spoke the words they had either pulled out of thin air or slaved over for hours to get just right.
Judges were picked from the audience of about 15 and told to score each poem based on an Olympic scale. Some were harsh, low scores; others were deservedly high. But as the night went on, tensions seem to rise as the winner was close at hand.
The Parlor Café, formerly known as the Elf Parlor, has had some major work done in recent months. It's a not a huge venue, but large enough to serve baked goods and even some dinner-esque treats while hosting live events occasionally. Beer has also been added to the menu.
Busiest during the school year, the Parlor Café draws a crowd from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and surrounding schools. Since the school year has ended for most, this recent trip to the café lacked a few bodies.
In atmosphere, the Parlor is all freestyle with subdued order. Walls of orange and green are trimmed with dark brown wood accents. The bar is in the front of the building, while plenty of seating in the dining area beckons customers. A cozy lounge area in back appears to be a great place to study or write poetry.
The Parlor boasts a "Chew" menu of made-to-order sandwiches, salads and hearty already prepped sandwiches. There's a lovely tea menu, and fresh tea leaves are kept in display jars behind the bar, adding just a bit of cool to the place.
Since this is technically a coffee house, the Parlor's "Sip" menu has all the choices of any chain coffee place, including non-coffee drinks and juice, made with Dean's Beans from Orange.
Berkshire Brewing Co. beer is on tap, with Green River Ambrosia mead, or honey wine, on the drinks menu. If you've never had mead, try the chamomile version here. It was sweet, but had a smooth, almost calming taste to it that packs an alcohol-infused love tap.
With the poetry slams every third Thursday (facebook.com /ramblingpoets), there are also open mic nights every Friday at 8 p.m. The Parlor's website keeps a relatively up-to-date calendar of events, with the next big one being June 15 with Party Boat. They also update their Facebook page with photos and events.
One thing about the café is the sense of community there. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, which made the recent experience feel kind of cliquey to an outsider. The poetry slam brings in people who have known and worked with each other for many a moon.
It was both refreshing and intimidating to see a tight-knit group of people interact with foot stomping, finger snapping and vocalized "boos."
But overall, the atmosphere was fun -- light at some points, with the laugh-inducing rhymes, and heavy when hearts-on-sleeves moments reminded us all of something personal.
With poetry slams and open mic nights fueled by coffee, beer, scones and sandwiches, the Parlor Café is a refreshment in and of itself. North Adams needs a place for the college kids to hang out and study, and this seems to be the spot. First dates and an old rendezvous or two will walk through the door.
People young and old will visit while on their way or coming back from Mass MoCA.
Bands that may one day make it big will play there at a Friday open mic. And poets will put together rhythms for others to judge on a white board with a failing dry-erase marker.
Here's to hoping -- finger snaps and foot stomps -- the Parlor Café thrives in North County for a good long time.
To reach Laura Lofgren:
or (413) 496-6229.
On Twitter: @BE_LauraL_