Monday through Saturday, you can usually find reruns of Seinfeld playing at 90 Union Street, home to Brunswick’s new (as of last spring) cafe, Dog Bar Jim. That is, when it’s not 85 degrees out and you arrive to find a sticky note that reads, “Too hot for Seinfeld,” on the vintage TV that rests near the cash register.
The brainchild of owner Ben Gatchell, this cafe offers a fresh setting for community in a town already littered with espresso.
Gatchell’s establishment stands out among the other coffee shops in Brunswick with its unique decor, perfect coffee and owner invested in making personal connections with his customers.
“I’m allowed to add my own personality to it,” Gatchell said. “There is also a nice challenge of how to maintain it long term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
It’s unusual to find a college town without a coffee shop in close proximity to the campus. To Gatchell, his Union Street location offered the perfect spot to serve both those who frequent the College and the quaint surrounding neighborhood it’s tucked away in.
“I found it to be a good opportunity not only to serve a good product but also have it be a little bit of a lower volume community base,” Gatchell said.
It’s clear that Gatchell has already cultivated the community he dreamt of. A friendly—not to mention talkative—guy, he welcomes every customer into his shop from behind a gleaming (and often steaming) copper espresso machine with a “Hey! How ya doin’?”
While learning to make espresso in my own hometown, I remember being told that a barista’s machine is their baby and to always treat it that way. Gatchell, well-versed in this art, lovingly calls his machine Tick-Tock.
“I work only on manual machines. They are very well engineered. All mechanical, no digital elements. This is what you will see if you walk into a cafe in Italy,” Gatchell said. “It’s a beautiful machine, and it makes my job a hell of a lot easier.”
As you exit the shop, you look back to see him peering over Tick-Tock, ready to give his cardinal wink and boyish hat tilt. This, and his oh-so-casual “later,” hints at Gatchell’s acute ability to make anyone feel at home in his presence. As expected, many of the customers buzzing in and out of his shop are loyal and on a first name basis with the barista.
“I was just in Italy and tried cappuccinos across the region. Only one cafe had a cappuccino that rivaled Ben’s,” said one customer grabbing a drink.
The space, while not just for the Bowdoin community, has been discovered by a few from the College that prize its comfort. Tucked in the back, in an area Gatchell describes as “the chill zone,” you can frequently find students.
Gillian Raley ’21 likes the separation the cafe gives her from campus while still being close to class.
“It’s a really cozy atmosphere, and I feel like I really fit in here, and anyone could fit in here. It’s an eclectic vibe, and the coffee is amazing,” she said.
The “eclectic” vibe comes through with Gatchell’s scones, handed out in silver hamburger bags, and other quirky artifacts (such as a clay version of the Mona Lisa). They could easily be seen in an art deco gallery in the West Village but are, instead, staples that give Dog Bar Jim a hidden charm in small-town Brunswick.
To some, the hidden aspect of the cafe is one of its best qualities. Associate Professor of English Hilary Thompson, while giving the cafe an A rating for student study space, enjoys the hyper-locality of Gatchell’s establishment, and wants to keep it that way.
“I would like it to not be completely annexed by the College but to be a space in its own right for a kind of intellectual conviviality,” Thompson said.
At a college that is known for leaving its students in a bubble, Dog Bar Jim may just offer the ability for town residents and students to have meaningful conversations. Something just as unique and treasured as catching an episode of Seinfeld while waiting for your next cappuccino.