The Meridian: out of the way

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November 17, 2009

2:21 AM

Stepping into the main room of the Meridian Coffeeshop was like stepping back in time — or at least out of Williamsburg. The emptiness, but for five chairs, two sofas and an oriental rug, was offset by the dusty, yet regal, curtains adorning the windows and the eclectic mix of artwork. My eyes were drawn from an old movie poster, to an alien painting, to a portrait of Elvis Presley, and finally to the daily specials of coffee, tea and face punches. And so, I ordered my first cup of coffee at the Meridian, or almost did. They happened to be out of coffee that Sunday evening, but I was invited back to the kitchen to check out the tea selection. Although this was nothing more than your grocery store assortment of bagged tea, I found charm in the way my simple coffeeshop stop had become an interactive venture.

“Most people don’t come here for the coffee and the tea,” Eric Tyler ’11 said. “They come because it’s very connected to a particular community.”

In fact “the folks,” as Web.wm.edu/so/meridian refers to the staff, seem to play a pivotal role in developing the Meridian’s unique character. The site describes Meridian regulars as “the elegant ones, those who have read the warnings, who pretend to know twelve-tone, who half-heartedly kill cockroaches, who found a past worth mentioning, who aren’t quite willing to starve … we [who] savor the simple expression of the complex thought.”

While the website jokes the Meridian “was originally built in 5000 B.C. during the Neolithic period in Mesopotamia,” it does have a history. “It’s a really cool place with a cool story and a nice culture behind it,” employee Matt Caterine ’12 said.

Hidden on the outskirts of campus, past Hunt Hall, in an inconspicuous aging white home, the Meridian fully embodies the meaning of a coffeehouse. As I sat in a large armchair with the stuffing popping out the side I felt more like I was in my grandmother’s living room than at a coffeehouse. The antique piano in the far corner of the room, dating back to 1925, only added to the aura of authenticity. A fan, missing one blade, dangled from the ceiling, and across the room a large bookshelf held a hodgepodge of CDs, board games, and markers — evidence of the Meridian’s multifaceted functions.

On Friday and Saturday evenings the Meridian hosts local musicians. On Nov. 20 The Invisible Hand, the Astronomers and the Vincent Price Tribute Band will be performing. Every Wednesday night they turn on the projectors for the screening of an original horror film, “creature features” as they are more affectionately called. The Meridian is student run and open every day from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., yet according to customers Tuesday and Wednesday nights are the most popular. On quieter evenings, such as the Sunday night on which I stopped by, you can find students lounging atop the well-worn couch on the front porch or studying inside to the rich sounds of classical music.

As I paid for my tea, watching my money get stashed away in a ceramic vase rather than in the cash register, I couldn’t help but think how often this Williamsburg gem is overlooked. Although the Meridian does cater to a group outside the mainstream it is by no means exclusive. The sundry decor begs to be matched by an equally diverse group of people. With 50-cent coffee and an atypical atmosphere the Meridian can be an exciting step out of the mundane for any student at the College of William and Mary.

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