Blackbird Cafe, the Valparaiso community’s ‘Third Place’

Blackbird Cafe, the Valparaiso community’s ‘Third Place’

With the increasing regularity of relationships maintained over virtual means of communication, it’s become second nature to go about one’s day in a cocoon. While the accessibility a smartphone creates is convenient, it also makes it entirely too easy to avoid bridging new, real connections between oneself and the surrounding community. This is just one of the many reasons “third places” are vital to the human experience.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined this term to point to the locations we spend our time when we’re not at home (the ‘first’ place) or in the workplace (the ‘second’ place). Third places are where we go to do our deep talking, to build relationships. It’s where we unpack the books we’ve read and the movies we’ve watched recently and where we break bread together or catch up over a coffee. Cafes, parks, churches, even hairdressers make for common third places. 

Valparaiso is home to a third place that lots of community members have in common. Blackbird Cafe sees a steady stream of customers throughout the day, and with its prime proximity to many workplaces and destinations in the hub of downtown Valpo, this doesn’t come as a surprise. 

The same could be said of the cafe’s popular and affordable menu, which in and of itself garners a lot of regulars. However, Blackbird Cafe is also the headquarters of several regular groups—Bible study groups, post-workout squads, pre-workday coworker gatherings, and friends who’ve pencilled in routine visits. Some regulars have even formed their own semi-groups based solely on their mutual frequency at the coffee shop.

“I enjoy talking to the people here,” said Greg Gavagan, a Blackbird regular who secures a seat in the wee hours of most mornings. “Most people will open up if you start talking to them.”

“Greg is really the godfather of Blackbird Cafe,” Bryan Truitt quipped from his table across the room, referring to Gavagan’s knack for making new acquaintances (and referencing an earlier joke about mobsters).

Truitt and Gavagan comprise part of one such semi-group of third placers. They are joined frequently by John Coros and Dan Slager, who was on vacation at the time of this writer’s visit. 

“We meet regularly here in the mornings, for the good coffee, the good conversation,” Coros said. “I’ve been coming here for about seven years now.”

“The coffee here is always great,” seconded William Ickstadt, another regular who serves as an unofficial member of the group. “The bakers and staff are great too.”

This collection of acquaintances comes for the coffee but stays hours for the company. Ickstadt, Director of Music at Immanuel Lutheran Church, joked that he was late to work by the time he stood to leave. Busy teaching and preparing for a visit by the Windsbacher Knabenchor German Boys Choir, he seemed pleased to set aside a few necessary hours of relaxation over coffee, the morning paper, and witty commentary at Blackbird.

“The atmosphere is part of the appeal,” Ickstadt said. “You’ve got a wide variety of people walking through the doors. You’ve you characters like Bryan and Greg. I guess I’d like to think I’m one of them, too,” he joked.

Another group of regulars sharing the space comprised of Jeri Maxwell, Katie Ogg, Teresa Massa, and their guest of honor Yana, Maxwell’s granddaughter. The friends have been staking out a table every Friday for a couple years. Ogg is the group’s instructor at Asana Yoga Center, and they’ve made end-of-week trips to Blackbird Cafe a part of their yoga regime. 

“That’s why Friday is our favorite yoga class,” Maxwell said, winking.

All women agreed that Blackbird made for a perfect spot to unwind together.

“Look around—it’s so quaint!” Maxwell said. “I always take a book from the shelf to read, and then return it when I’m finished. I love the idea of book sharing.” 

“Plus, you can’t beat the coffee,” Massa said.

Yana, a visitor from the Washington D.C. area, reported she was a fan of the cafe. 

“I like it here—it’s very cozy,” she said.

Connecting with people at a third place is a ritual for many, and those at Blackbird Cafe take special care of that ritual. Though it may have become a routine for them, the activity strengthens a sense of community and human connectivity. Even some of the customers working or sipping in solitude offered a smile at the conversations they overheard.

Be a part of this unique third place and plan your next visit to Blackbird Cafe today.