Just my cup of tea

On a hot July day in downtown Tacoma, I was determined to park my car in a spot of shade.  Ready to give up hope after driving around and around, I finally found a shade patch on the south end of Broadway, at the corner of 13th.  Shady and an easy walk to my destination.

Four blocks later on Commerce Street I found Mad Hat Tea, an “urban tea house in the heart of Tacoma.”  I passed through the golden-framed doorway into a dim interior, pausing for a few moments to give my eyes a chance to get accustomed to the change in light.  I began slowly to identify objects in the room:  a bar along the left wall, flanked on both ends by white paper lanterns (think Ikea) and faced by five, tall bar stools; a pale wooden floor with rugs scattered here and there; two nondescript tables with nonmatching chairs; a sofa or loveseat, probably being able to seat three; various art pieces on the wall to the right; small table with two chairs, waiting for someone to play chess.  All in all, it had that cluttered yet comfortable look that invited long tenancy by the guests.  One feature I especially enjoyed was the telephone booth.  Signs request that all guests refrain from using cell phones but one young patron used her cell phone—and had stepped into the phone booth and closed the door before doing so.  I silently applauded that step toward civility.

Like the bar in the television sitcom, Cheers, this tea house seems to be one of those places where everyone knows your name.  At least, that is how it feels.  Perhaps, in part, that feeling is due to the fact that co-owner Tobin Ropes says, “I have the best job in Tacoma.”  He sets a comfortable pace as the chief cook and bottle washer, or, in this case, chief greeter, steeper, and tea server.  Any help he gets is from student interns who volunteer because they want to learn the business or more about tea itself or they just enjoy the easy camaraderie that exists across generations.

The other co-owner of the shop is nutritionist and herbalist, Maureen McHugh.  She develops tisanes (herbal teas) from combinations of  leaf, flower and root, designed to target specific conditions or symptoms.  She does not dispense medical advice, but has a well-deserved reputation among her peers for the combinations she has developed over the years, some 200 of them listed in their 3-ring binder catalog that can be referenced at the shop.

By this time, you might be thinking that I have my assignments mixed up since I seem to be reviewing a tea shop instead of talking about art.  Luckily for our local arts community, the two are tied together.  That is, in the six years’ existence of the shop, Ropes estimates, the works of some 30 artists have been on display for various lengths of time.  Some have shown for two or three times.  In addition to supporting the arts community by helping develop an audience, Ropes is generous in donating product to various art events and/or organizations.  Furthermore, Ropes has been building his own personal collection of the work of local artists.

It is from this personal collection that Ropes drew for the work currently on view at Mad Hat.  If you have ever wanted to update your acquaintance with work that is labeled as “underground” or even “subversive” or that can charm you in unusual ways, Mad Hat is the place to go.   To name just a few artists included, you can find:   Jeremy Gregory (graphics to comic strips); Daniel Blue (poetry, music, street banners); Kenji Fulmer (screen printing);  Zach Marvik’s wide array of work . . .Chris Sharp, Shaw Alexander, Fred Novak. . . This is a unique opportunity to view the work of all these artists in just one place and time.