Poets hold forth inside Kafe Kerouac, where customers can go for inspiration, a stiff drink or both.
Taun Sanka whips up a specialty drink.
Liquor is also served at the cafe.
LPs number in the thousands.
What's an English major to do after graduation?
Open a coffee shop, of course.
But not just any coffee shop.
When he conceived Kafe Kerouac — named for a famous Jack of the writing trade — Ohio State University student Mike Heslop had more novel plans in mind.
In its senior (fourth) year, the cafe has expanded to become equal parts caffeine emporium, bookshop, record store and bar.
So whether you're looking for an LP by the Yardbirds, a novel by Solzhenitsyn or a seasonal by Great Lakes, the casual, couch-equipped University District hangout will satisfy.
"I thought there was a need for a good, independent coffee shop on campus again since places like Insomnia and others had disappeared," Heslop explained. "We're not Starbucks. We're an independent little shop."
And with independence comes variety: I've visited Kafe Kerouac more than a few times through the years — always finding something interesting to hear or see among the selection of 4,000 books and 4,000 records.
A few months back, it was Loverboy's Keep It Up (featuring the immortal Hot Girls in Love) for $1, while grown men taunted each other over a game of Risk.
I've sat on the mismatched living-room furniture near the front window; drunk pints of Bourbon Barrel Stout; and dominated a friend in Yahtzee, a game not quite as exciting as craps but much less expensive in the long run.
During a recent visit, some college students ate from a large pot of home-cooked pasta and sipped smoothies while others studied and procrastinated at tables scattered among stacks of books, racks of vinyl records and random piles of board games — refugees from the best garage sale ever.
Kerouac, meanwhile, watches benignly from a poster near the makeshift wooden bar.
"It's like somebody's dorm room exploded," said Scott Woods, founder of Writers' Block Poetry, which hosts readings and competitions on Wednesday nights.
The idea, said Heslop, 31, was to create a place where "writers and artists could come in and express themselves."
Locally produced artwork hangs on the walls and is rotated monthly — almost as often as the surprisingly varied selection of bottled beers (individual works of art in their own right).
Even the menu has a creative side, with the coffee drinks named for famous authors. Naturally, the James Joyce includes Irish cream as well as cinnamon, espresso and steamed milk. And could drinking Kafka while reading him be interpreted as Kafkaesque? Please keep your essays to 10,000 words.
The average bottle of wine, meanwhile, costs about $12 with no corking fee — a nice alternative when coffee beans and hops aren't jump-starting the creative juices.
Inspiration comes in many forms at Kafe Kerouac. So, if you'll excuse me, my great American novel about a strikingly handsome, yet modest, Yahtzee enthusiast isn't going to write itself.