City Council coffeehouse opens doors in Nevada City
Know & Go
What: City Council
Where: 233 Broad St., Nevada City
Hours: 7 a.m.-12 a.m. daily
For info: Call 530-264-7788
When Josh Henry opened The Curly Wolf Espresso seven years ago, the narrow, funky neo-Victorian space seemed like the quintessentially quirky Nevada City coffeehouse.
So crowded there often was no place to sit or even stand while you waited for your drink, those in the know would grab their lattes to go, and decamp to the National Hotel’s upstairs deck.
Henry’s new venture, City Council, feels and looks like the opposite of The Curly Wolf in almost every way. Light and bright and spare, the coffeehouse features a sleek counter fronting an array of refectory tables. Sand-blasted brick walls, exposed ducting and raw rafters complete the industrial, big-city vibe.
The Curly Wolf, Henry said, suited the town at the time. But now, he says, he feels a different vibe.
“This is the coffeehouse I want,” he said. “Curly Wolf was a practice run. I learned a lot in seven years.”
The Curly Wolf, from the first week it opened, always felt cramped, Henry said, adding he constantly battled the heating and air conditioning, as well as the plumbing.
“We wanted a shop with no more compromises,” he said. “I was fortunate to get this space.”
City Council threw open its doors Saturday. Some of the events that were well-loved at Curly Wolf, but that had to be jettisoned for space and kitchen considerations, have already started up. Trivia is back on Thursdays with quiz mistress Zoe Toffaleti. And authentic street tacos from El Diablo are back on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 5 p.m. to midnight.
“In terms of a coffee shop, it’s probably over-kill,” Henry said. “This place, I just made it mega-everything. Every single thing in this place is different except for one grinder … I wanted everything to be completely new.”
The only other carryover is the row of theater seats that once resided in the Curly Wolf “vault” — unless you count Henry’s penchant for head-scratching names for his businesses.
If you ask Henry why City Council, you might get a few different answers. It might be because, as he claimed, the building was once the site of the first city council chamber. And it might be that he likes the nod to the quirky bars of yore with innocuous names: think “The Library,” or “The Office;” there was at one time a saloon in the building called Council Chambers. Curly Wolf, in case you were wondering, is an old gold-miners term for a tough character.
‘Worth the wait’
The process of renovating the space, which took a year and a half, was stressful, Henry acknowledged.
“I’m happy with it,” he said. “But I haven’t sat down yet.”
Although Fur Traders had been in the space for decades, the building had a life for much longer than that as a bar and restaurant. So the plumbing already was in place for the coffee bar — and the kitchen was still in the back, used as storage.
Henry was able to uncover and preserve some of the character of the building, like the steel beams with hand lettering showing their origin as the Miner’s Foundry. He was disappointed at not being able to expose the tile of the original corner entryway, but that space is now the perfect perch to watch the ever-changing streetscape.
“You would never have known how awesome this space was,” coffee roaster Connor Lee said, describing the sheetrock and dropped ceiling that hid much of the building’s character.
Everything in City Council was meticulously planned out, from the high-efficacy lighting to the handcrafted floating bars and tables to the art on the walls.
“I refused to make this a rotating gallery,” Henry said. “Brook Caballero, who is a childhood friend, miraculously let me have some of his originals to put up on the walls.”
In the front corner is a kids’ space with its own pint-sized table and chairs along with a comfy armchair for a parent. In the back is what Henry calls “my pointless theater area” — outfitted with comfortable seating and a high-end 4K wall-mounted television complete with theater sound system and a Nintendo Switch.
“We’ll sell popcorn,” Henry said, adding that he has a library of about 70 movies but that customers can bring in their own. “If any customers want to have a movie night, they can.”
One oddly whimsical touch is the drafting table tucked into a niche next to the lounge, that Henry says he added “for no reason.”
Architect Mark Reilly was making good use of the space on a recent Tuesday morning.
“It’s perfect,” Reilly said, joking that he wants a “Reserved” sign. “It’s a beautiful space. It was worth the wait.”
An uncompromising vision
First and foremost, Henry said, City Council is about coffee.
“It will be a huge focus,” he said.
Henry, who has a coffee warehouse/lab with a cafe that he uses to train his accounts’ staff, is uncompromising on most aspects of his coffee.
He will not “scorch” his beans for what many people prefer in a dark roast, he will not scald his milk. He will not over-heat the drinks he serves. He’s proud of his ingredients and he hopes he will be able to educate his customers with events like monthly cuppings.
City Council’s future holds plenty to eat as well.
Right now, it offers a selection of freshly baked pastries, but Henry plans to roll out lunch and breakfasts soon.
“This is such a breakfast town,” he said. “There’s a need for that.”
Within a few months, he will ramp up to have full food service ordered at the counter 17 hours a day, every day. Henry plans to serve high-end organic food and is considering occasional themed “pop-ups” of Vietnamese or Indian fare.
The renovated kitchen “will allow us to do whatever we want,” Henry said, sparking a discussion with Lee about whether brioche doughnuts are a possibility.
Lee, who recently returned from a stay in New Zealand, said he decided to start experimenting with baking bread out of frustration that there wasn’t any place in Nevada City to buy a good loaf. On a recent Tuesday, he tested a semolina-wheat blend with fennel, flax and sesame that, once tasted, might be the only bread you’d want to eat ever again. Plans are to use his naturally leavened sourdough both for the restaurant and for retail sales.
Lee is proud of the locally sourced flour, an heirloom red winter wheat from Early Bird Farm that is stone-milled.
“It’s as real as it gets,” he said. “Nothing is sifted out. All the good stuff is in there.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-3236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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