LENOX -- I'm writing to you from Chocolate Springs Café on Monday evening. It's 7 p.m. but I'll be here until the shop closes in two hours. This space is comfortably furnished to the point of luxury, relaxed by muffled sounds of voices and puttering hands, and the air is infused with the aroma of toothsome pastry ingredients and free Wi-Fi.
There was only one customer inside the large and comfortably organized café when I stepped in from the chilly night, but I struggled to focus on any one thing. Cases of intricately prepared and decorated edible sculptures, countertops and displays piled with retail bags of specialty items doused or infused with chocolate, and a long menu of homemade desserts, coffee and tea, and gelato all stood out as things I might like to consume right away.
I ordered a mug of "Serious Hot Chocolate," ($4.75) described on the Chocolate Springs' website as, "Our signature beverage. A rich, decadent blend of chocolate topped with our own whipped cream and chocolate shavings." It's a beautiful piece of barista presentation and a de-emphasis on sweetness brings the rich chocolate's other flavors -- bright and bitter elements I associate with more coffee and roasted nuts -- to the forefront.
Though this is now the most expensive drinkable desert I've ever purchased, my thoughts about spending on what looks at first blush like an extravagant novelty are secure when considering Chocolate Springs in comparison to a bar without alcohol or an after-hours coffee shop that doesn't specifically emphasize coffee. The price of admission to these venues is the cost of food and drinks purchased at a counter as your desire for them arises.
I wish I could quote a line delivered by John Travolta to Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" during a conversation about a $5 milkshake. Those who are familiar with the quotation (or you can just YouTube it) will understand my general thoughts on the drink, which came to an even $5 with tax, exaggerated by Travolta's attempt at acting drugged. Or do I have that reversed? Either way, you're forced to consider whether you'd buy a supreme shake for $5. This was in 1994 dollars, sure, but here's your entirely un-gangster chance to resolve that old quandary.
Burgundy and maize colored walls with glossy black trim breathe vibrancy into the large, high-ceilinged space that's kept cool for reasons pertaining to the kitchen's confectionary craft. A spirited playlist of vintage dance and electronic pop songs holds a sense of momentum aloft in this space, occupied now by only three friendly and diligent employees and a mother-daughter pair eying one of several large and loaded pastry cases.
When Gary Numan's "Cars" begins humming on the crisp sound system I nod my head with rhythmic approval.
"Here's a new flavor that we made today," said the woman who brought me my hot chocolate while handing the woman a taste of some mysterious treat. "It's caramelized banana with rum."
Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible" is now playing. I need to find that music video online. A fellow just joined the customer at a small café table for a subdued conversation punctuated by laughter as an espresso grinder whirs. This bar is right up my alley.
As closing time approaches I strike up a conversation with Joshua Neederman, Chocolate Springs' owner and the man responsible for all the craft desserts and interesting uses of chocolates. His thoughts on the place as something akin to a tavern are similar to my own.
"We see a lot of business meetings here, first dates, people getting together without the pressure of alcohol or having to commit to a full meal," he tells me, while gently placing carefully detailed chocolates onto a ceramic Japanese sushi tray with metal tongs. "Two people have even proposed here."
In the decade and one month since Neederman has overseen his kitchen and shop, he's seen all sorts of people develop strong relationships with the café and its products. He witnessed a couple meets for their first date here and saw them sit at the same couch for the next year. When he noticed they'd changed seating locations, now snuggled together on a smaller seat, Neederman asked about the move and learned they'd just been married.
"The Safety Dance" just transitioned into "Abra Cadabra" on the sound system. Who'd have thought my new favorite after-hours joint would be a chocolatier? It's comfortable, well lit, I can use my laptop and Neederman makes a convincing arument for the health benefits of pure, homemade chocolate.