For the love of Café Europa
One result of the city’s controversial transfer of Café Europa’s space in the Cultural Center to the nonprofit Greensboro Parks Downtown, Inc. has been a public outpouring of love for that elegant but unpretentious European-style bistro. This Valentine’s Day article is about that love.
At the Feb. 6 meeting, where Europa supporters seemed met by indifference and even annoyance from the city council, I was moved by the testimony of technological entrepreneur and retired chemist Tim Thomson. The session, including the bizarre moment when the city attorney advised the mayor and District 3 Representative Justin Outling to leave the room while Europa owner Jakub Pucilowski spoke, can be viewed online via this Google-shortened link: goo.gl/Lrm48J.
Other supporters protested Assistant City Manager Chris Wilson’s decision to turn the Europa space over to GDPI, citing the appearance of a conflict of interest created by Wilson’s alleged relationship with GDPI chairwoman Cecelia Thompson. But Thomson simply talked about his and his wife’s experiences eating there.
He told the city council that his wife Maguy, being French, loved dining outside, but the lack of wheelchair access to the Europa patio had prevented her from doing so. “So we went to Jakub and told him what our problem was,” Thomson said. Thomson said similar complaints had fallen on deaf ears at other establishments, but Pucilowski listened, and at Pucilowski’s own expense installed the patio entrance designated “Maguy’s Gate.”
That gate and sign were the work of Greensboro blacksmith, artisan and designer Jeffrey Barbour, the person most responsible for bringing the Europa situation before the public. Besides raising the conflict of interest issue at the Feb. 6 meeting (a subject unremarked on by the city council), Barbour spoke passionately of his love for Pucilowski’s restaurant. More recently, he expanded on that subject in an email. “I love Cafe Europa in the same way I love this classic wool roll neck sweater I’ve had for decades,” he wrote. “Both are warm and familiar and comfortable and just make everything feel a little better when I’m in them.”
One Greensboro notable not at the meeting but interested in its outcome was award-winning novelist and photographer Lee Zacharias, who taught creative writing at University of North Carolina Greensboro for 32 years. “Years ago my husband and I decided to stop celebrating our anniversary at expensive restaurants, where we sometimes got excellent meals and sometimes not,” she emailed, adding that dining out can be especially difficult for her “because I have Celiac Disease, and my choices are often very limited.”
Despite this, she wrote that she greatly enjoys Café Europa, particularly its patio, where she and her husband Mike have a “tradition of many years of celebrating our anniversary in a casual, delightful atmosphere where there are several things I can order that will be good. To lose Café Europa would not be just losing a restaurant to us, but losing a fond family tradition.”
It’s not only artists and writers who love Café Europa. Some rival business owners do, too. One is Simonne Ritchy McClinton, whose M’Coul’s Public House at 110 W. McGee St. has enjoyed rare success downtown. “I love going to Europa,” she told me. “I love taking my kids there and sharing a bunch of mussels and shrimp, where we talk and laugh and fight over the last piece of baguette to dip in that crazy good garlic lime sauce.”
The person I know who’s eaten the most meals at Café Europa is Anne Abrams, who’s been dining there, sometimes twice-weekly, since 2001. Her brother Tom cooks there, and her brother Creighton used to tend bar with John Hammer at the long-gone Rhinoceros Club owned by Europa’s founder John Rudy. She may be the only Rhino veteran who’s never claimed to have been there the legendary night Bruce Springsteen walked in.
Anne proved as bluntly outspoken as her famously crusty grandfather General Creighton W. Abrams, the man for whom the army’s main battle tank is named. “I’ve loved Europa since John Rudy opened it after even the Mendenhall twins failed in that location,” Anne said before sarcastically referencing the conflict of interest issue raised by Europa supporters. “Maybe the city employee who turned it over to his alleged girlfriend’s organization will take her there for Valentine’s Day.”
Speaking of that, Pucilowski said he would be offering a special dinner for two with wine and dessert, as well as such regular menu items as steaks, mussels, and Jaegerschnitzel for Valentine’s Day.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.