In preparation for writing this column, I made a plan to go on an “artist date”—something I learned about from reading Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way more than twenty years ago. Cameron defines the artist date as a solo expedition to do something that enchants or interests you, “…an excursion, a play date that you pre-plan and defend against all interlopers.”
The first artist date I ever took was in 1996 after reading The Artist’s Way for the first time. I had just returned from a trip to Germany where I’d visited relatives, and, feeling very European, planned an entire artist date around a scarf I’d bought at a flea market in Berlin. Back then, I was living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I took my journal to a dimly lit bar in a historic hotel to write on a rainy afternoon. The scarf gave me the moxie to occupy a tiny wooden table illuminated by a green bankers lamp amidst a cast of literary characters draped over shabby antique furniture. When a man in leather pants tried to engage me in conversation, I said, “Ich spreche nur deutsch (I speak only German),” a phrase I’d looked up in my German phrase book ahead of time. Then I flipped the end of the scarf over my shoulder and went back to writing.
There is a coffee shop here in Missoula with a similar, bohemian vibe, a kindred spirit to that hotel bar in Flagstaff. Butterfly Herbs’ website tells you everything you need to know: “The oldest Espresso Bar and café in Missoula,” and below, in red font, “We are currently updating this site! Please note the prices quoted were current in 1997. Ask for current pricing when placing order. Thank you!” The website was last updated on 01/13/03; it says so at the bottom of the home page.
Butterfly feels like a coffee shop, not an Apple store or an Ikea. There is a wooden bar, wooden stools, and wooden booths with red, vinyl seats. Behind the counter is a brass sign that looks like it once belonged to a Catholic Church: Confessions 5:00–7:00 Daily, and above the sign, a collection of plants on a shelf, all reaching up toward a skylight.
The bar is cluttered with newspapers, ceramic coffee cups, and donuts on a cake pedestal under a domed glass lid. The air smells of deep-roasted coffee beans, homemade soup, and toasted bagels. Occasionally there is the faintest, almost pleasant hint of tobacco smoke drifting in from the alley when they prop the back door open in the summertime.