Coffee & tunes at the homey Yellow Moon

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

COBDEN, Ill. -- A shaggy biker complimenting owner Mary White on the "nice ambiance" is the first clue that the Yellow Moon Cafe is not your usual coffeehouse.

Ambiance the Yellow Moon has, much of it provided by the clientele. Owners Mary and Michael White have created a spot where old-timers in camouflage hunting gear order French vanilla cappuccinos in the mornings. In the evenings, adults from many different generations talk and sip regional wines while children drink peach-lingonberry milkshakes and eat big slices of pie. Weekend nights, a hodgepodge of folk singers and bluegrass groups from around the area perform on the small stage. Some nights a classical guitarist plays.

Something about the Yellow Moon reminds you of the motley hominess of The Brick cafe in the TV series "Northern Exposure."

The bookcase is lined with the Great Books series and has a crumpled copy of "The Whole Earth Catalogue." A Monopoly game, a chess set and an Etch-a-Sketch are handy.

Creative and fancy coffee drinks made with chocolate and orange are available. So is a basic cup of Joe, and that's 15 cents less if you bring your own cup. You also can get a vegan cup of hot chocolate.

Brad Belt, Saturday night's entertainment, sat in shorts and tennis shoes on a stool, a large inflatable catfish hanging over his head and a Corona nearer by. In a pleasing voice, the retired mathematics professor from Lake of Egypt sang original songs about senoritas and other songs from his new CD, "Golf is a Cussin' Game," available at pro shops and his self-named Web site.

Belt sometimes forgot the words to his songs, but nobody at the Yellow Moon minded. The coffeehouse is a comfortable place to play, he says. "It allows people like me who are not in it for the money an opportunity to test their songs."

When Belt took a break, a young man sat at the untuned upright piano and began playing "Hey Jude."

The Yellow Moon was bustling by 9:30 Saturday night. Fortunately, the Whites' daughters, Charlotte and Melissa, were home from college and helped out.

Mary White is an inspector for the Illinois Department of Public Health. Her husband, Michael, is a geodetic surveyor for the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. When he isn't serving up lattes, he travels the world surveying airstrips.

They bought the old building at 110 Front St. for only $500 because it didn't really have a roof. Eventually they turned the top floor into stylish apartments. They rented out a the ground floor for a few years until one of their daughter's friends who needed a job ran with Mary's suggestion that maybe they should open a coffeehouse.

"He got on the Internet and got the specs for the handicapped bathroom, and he became our manager," Mary said.

The Yellow Moon opened in March 1999.

Mary wanted it to be an artsy place. Mike wanted it to be like a used bookstore. The hybrid has evolved into something much more -- a place where the community meets.

Bikers sit alongside high school kids. The local Parent Teacher Organization sent the Yellow Moon thank-yous for providing children with a safe place to congregate after school.

Dan Marsh comes at least once a week even though he lives much nearer Carbondale. He is a geriatric counselor who plays in a folk group called Black Coffee.

Arti Nannie, a Murphysboro, Ill., office systems worker who plays clarinet and saxophone in Black Coffee, says the Yellow Moon is popular because the people who run it treat their customers like family and make them feel at ease.

"It's just so homey," she says.

Nannie isn't an employee but will wash dishes in the kitchen if the Whites get too busy.

"Sometimes you can barely get in the door," she says.

One of the cafe's most popular groups to perform at the Yellow Moon is The Woodbox Gang, a band that makes some of its own instruments. Their next performance is Aug. 3.

The Yellow Moon is open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekday mornings, reopening each afternoon except Monday at 4 p.m. The coffeehouse is closed Monday nights.

Hours are until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

335-6611, extension 182

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