Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guest Student Post: The Radio Bean

The following is a guest post submitted by Elena Emerson, a CCV Burlington Liberal Studies student in her second semester. Shee wrote this piece for her Spring 2009 English Composition II class with Deborah Straw for a travel essay assignment. If you'd like to contribute some of your work to the CCV Burlington Blog, contact Adam Warrington (

The Radio Bean
By Elena Emerson

Subtler places have existed, but none sits in stronger juxtaposition to its surroundings than the Radio Bean. Nestled between The Other Place, a local Burlington bar, and a run-down nail salon, the Radio Bean speaks for itself. With bold tones of individuality, the Bean is located near the corner of Pearl Street and North Winooski Avenue. The buildings facade is made of glass, with neat outlines of red and metallic paint. Its sign, which hangs above front double doors, proclaims “Radio Bean” in twisted, copper pipes. Its shape is of a psychedelic mushroom encased in red Christmas tree lights.

The interior looks like a junkyard masterpiece, everything antique and perfectly placed. The red theme continues with a strand of lights shaped like chilies, draped neatly around the corners of the bar. The bar itself sits in the back left hand corner of the cafe, taking up about a fourth of the room's total space. Menus hang overhead alongside the springs of an old mattress, which now serves as a wine holder. Utensils used for making drinks also hang on the mattress. The general feel of the Bean is a bit unkempt, but it is obvious that this was the look the owner was going for. While some things may look dirty, the overall feel is more of age than grime.

Housed inside the Bean are a few metallic tables with wooden chairs which seat anywhere from one to four people. Larger parties can choose one of the two booths or sofas inside. The largest sofa was inherited from a café that closed four years ago. It is a funky chaise lounge of black studded leather and animal print. It's placed against the front of the inside of the café and can seat as many as eight. It's known as the “Comfy Corner,” but truth be told, its a bit dilapidated and not all that comfy.

During the day the Bean seems to have ample seating, but wait until later on in the evening and you'll be hard-pressed to find a seat with any legroom. A very popular hang out for locals, it fills up quickly, usually packed as early as seven o' clock at night. So much so that it is common for someone to stand outside, monitoring the door, only allowing as many in as have come out.

Come with a sketchbook as interesting subjects abound. Patrons range from students to hippy parents, as the Bean is an attraction for many locals. It's also a great place to study as you can buy a creamy grilled cheese for $3.75 or a bagel with any number of toppings for $2.00. Have a need for something sweet, opt for a delicious cinnamon roll or vegan cupcake.

A hub for artists and bohemians alike, the Bean triples as a coffee shop, bar, and venue for local artists. Unlike other cafés in Burlington, the Radio Bean accepts credit cards. Be advised, however, there is a four dollar minimum. The menu offers tea and coffee, sizes and prices ranging from $1.25 for a small to $2.75 for a pot. As with most cafés, the coffee choices are abundant. If you're a fan of the Argentinean classic, Mate, grab a Mate Late. It's Mate infused with maple syrup and is delicious. Served in generous portions, a large Mate will cost you $3.25.

Don't worry about going hungry, either. If you happen to be relaxing at the Bean and are running low on cash, laid-back employees have been known to give away day old pastries. The Radio Bean is the perfect place to meet a friend for a coffee or to dine alone. A yummy platter of vegetarian chili will suffice as it comes with a huge hunk of bread and butter, filling even the hungriest of travelers.

The menu is packed with many interesting concoctions. Gone are the simple coffee and Kahluas. Try a Cafe Romano for $6.00. Its ingredients are Espresso, Sambuca, and whipped cream. While $6.00 may seem expensive, it is right on par, and perhaps a bit cheaper, than many other bars in town. Another delicious coffee twist is the Nutty Irishman, made of Amaretto and Bailey's. All coffee and espresso drinks are made with organic, fair trade coffee from Myan Isman Co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico, so order with pride. Caffeinated drinks aren't the only cocktails offered, however. If you're looking for something more conventional, order a classic mojito.

One of the things that makes The Bean so interesting is its atmosphere. It is a cornucopia of art and has a general sense of mystique. Every month or two there is a change in the art it exhibits. Last month, long strands of photographs hang, covering the exposed brick and tattered walls. The artist is Kimberley Taylor, a local sculptor. The photos, strung together by white twine, are of various subjects. Some of the people captured have chosen to dress themselves in paint, rather than clothing, while others don glittery ensembles and are surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

The Bean is a wonderful place if you're looking to meet new people or hang out with old friends to watch local bands. The stage is small, hovering only a foot off the ground. But, despite its size, it somehow manages to fit a drum-set, guitarist or two, bassist, and at times, several vocalists. Every Monday the café is filled with locals wishing to show off their talent at the open mic night. An old brown piano sits parallel to the stage and is used often, despite it’s being out of tune. This as well as the rest of the surrounding ornamentation is all a part of the Radio Bean's appeal. The atmosphere is open and relaxed, so much so that people of varying ages hang out here. On open mic nights, some read poetry and others play instruments. Many musicians come alone, but others choose to collaborate with one or two accompanying artists. It's not uncommon for the stage to be filled any given Monday night with passers-by.

As night approaches, the café transforms into a dark and lazy den, reminiscent of old French cafés. Both the inside and outside flow with talk of literature, sometimes mixed in with gossip. It's obvious that there is a following, a group that comes religiously every night.

A haze of smoke awaits you when you step outside as people crowd around little metal tables to share rolled cigarettes. Another strand of lights hangs between light posts, pushing the night away. In the summer, the door remains open, but in the winter the inside of the windows fog up, making it feel even colder. The scene always lasts well into the night, sometimes until dawn peeks through, with people spilling over from the surrounding bars to catch a glimpse or join in the fun.

If music's not necessarily your thing, the Bean offers a plethora of attractions during the month, all posted on a blackboard inside. Matthew, an employee of almost three years, remembers a spelling bee held a few months back. “The people were very intense about winning. It was a lot of fun,” he told me. The employees are friendly, think midday bartender meets hippy, and are quick to offer suggestions if you're unsure of what to order.

Falling in sync with this hipster hangout is easy. Watch the traffic from the cozy corner, or read a book on the stage when no one's jamming. The menu is just like the Bean's customers: eclectic and intriguing. There is always something new to to try. Also, with gift certificates available, you can pass the Bean along. If you're just visiting the area and want something to remember the café by, you can purchase a T-shirt for $15.00.

Ten minutes or ten hours. It's your choice how long you stay at the Radio Bean. The people are chill, the Internet connection is free (a Internet donation jar sits on the bar), and the drinks are delicious. The Radio Bean is an essential and unforgettable piece of Burlington, Vermont.

1 comment:

  1. More student want radio bean.It is one types of disinterments of student life.More student like it.