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Harlem Place Cafe Keeps Its Soul

By Pamela Rouse and Jenni Simcoe
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010, at 09:56AM
Harlem Place Cafe Pamela Rouse

When Lost Souls Cafe first opened in January of 2006, it was the newest stage of development for business partners Vincent Barrios and Justin Cubeb. The duo opened it as a place to grow the art shows they had held previously in their loft in the Hellman Building.

The duo closed Lost Souls the week of September 20 and reopened as Harlem Place Café on October 4. “Lost Souls really isn’t going anywhere, it’s evolving,” said Barrios. “We’ve been struggling since we opened (Lost Souls). We had never turned a profit,” he said.

Barrios says the struggle was primarily location. “We were the first to open in Harlem Alley and take a risk in that location,” he explained.

While the alley is still intended to become a fully-activated pedestrian space, those plans have taken far longer to come together than expected. That can make the tucked-away cafe hard to find. “If we didn’t walk, we would have completely missed the alley that led to Lost Souls Cafe,” notes a recent Yelp review by Edren S.

For Harlem Place Café, Barrios and Cabebe brought in new partner Ray Hodget to help with the rebranding and transition. “He’s someone I’ve worked with in the past. He’s a graphic designer and contractor,” said Barrios.

Programs and elements that Lost Souls was known for will continue in the new concept. What once was the “Verbally Loud” open mic event on the last Fridays is now the “Speakeasy Open Mic” every other Monday at 9pm. Comedy Night is on Wednesdays from 8-930. Barrios says they hope to feature afternoon events in the future, and possibly bring back something like the “Talking Drums” event that used to occur on Sundays.

Art Walk shows will continue in the space on a rotating basis. “The idea is to create the back lounge area as a specific gallery space,” says Barrios.

The new cafe is meant to have a speakeasy vibe, and changes included updating the table seating with newspaper graphics of the Prohibition era, interior waist-high walls that may eventually sport high-top counters and stools — creating extra seating for those wanting to grab a coffee and work on their laptops — new ceiling fans, repositioned track lighting, fresh paint and partitioned-off areas for the gallery space.

The menu, which is hung from the ceiling behind the counter, has different names, but if you look closer you’ll see many of the favorites are still there.

A happy hour menu is offered weeknights from 6 - 10pm and includes $2 off beer, wine & sangria. Food items include $1 tacos and half-price”Smarty Bites” sandwiches. Despite the “Speakeasy” theme, there are no plans to apply for a full liquor license. Lost Souls Café had applied for and received a wine and beer license in 2007. Wine and beer is still offered, focusing on draft beers from California craft breweries with plans to create a full wine list and offer wine by the glass.

“Ideally, the plan is to open another Lost Souls Cafe,” Barrios said. The search for new space will hopefully keep Lost Souls Downtown, but they are also looking in areas like Silver Lake.

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