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The quest to open a coffeehouse in the Arts District

Logo for the proposed Avant Cafe
Logo for the proposed Avant Cafe

Tamarisk Wood was your typical Vegas arts kid. She went to the Las Vegas Academy. She saw bands play at Cafe Espresso Roma and Cafe Copioh, the two popular caffeine-fix hangouts across from UNLV.

And she spent many afternoons at the Enigma Garden Cafe, the pioneering, and last, coffeehouse/performance space of the Arts District, which not only served up fabulous drinks and food, but hosted poetry readings, exhibited art and eclectic music events until it closed in 2000. (I saw a local band play there as a visiting L.A. resident, and it helped convince me to start my professional writing career in Las Vegas.) It was passionately owned and run by Julie Brewer, who helped make First Friday a local insititution, and Lenadams Dorris, the longtime CityLife dining critic of the 1990s and early 2000s. 

"Enigma [was] the perfect cafe, as far as I'm concerned," she says. "It was a beautiful, unique space, run by awesome, community-minded people, and the coffee concoctions and food were yummy. They did it right all around."

It's the dominant inspiration to Wood, a longtime barista and participant of the local arts community -- she currently curates the Avant Space at Sunrise Coffee -- who seeks to bring that spirit back to the Arts District, as well as open an inviting java joint that would indulge her passion for making and selling quality coffee. "Seeing that smile after the first sip, as silly as it seems, still makes me giddy," she says.

So Wood has envisioned Avant Cafe, the name of prospective coffeehouse, where she can serve both coffee drinkers and those who appreciate the sort of arts-enriched café culture that so many Vegas residents find in short supply. 

She writes of her dream: "I've wanted my own cafe and art gallery for years, but at 32 years old, I finally feel I have the experience and maturity to create a space that will be around for a very long time; to become a home for artists, musicians, writers, thinkers and friends to come together and make Las Vegas even better."

But that takes capital, of course. Heck, even scoping out a place to settle for her gestating coffeehouse/gallery/performance space takes cash.

"I'm in the process of looking, had a few meet-ups with locations, but it's a weird grey area," she says. "Some people seem to think I need a location first, but it's hard to secure a location when the funds aren't right there in hand ... but where I'm at, I've talked enough with awesome people that a couple locations seem to be locked once I've raised the money."

So Wood is doing what many local entrepreneurs and artists have done before her: crowdfunding her enterprise. She's set up an Indiegogo page for Avant Cafe, in order to raise $50,000 for the venture. If she accomplishes that by Nov. 23, she can take that money and apply it to making Avant Cafe -- and bringing a coffeehouse back to the Arts District -- a reality. 

The crowdfunding campaign rewards donors based on their donation level. Give, say, $25, and you'll get a $15 gift card upon the joint's opening. Or, if you're feeling particularly generous -- and expect to be bailing on Starbucks for your morning latte -- you can give $1,000 and you'll get a free drink of your choice everyday, as well as all the other perks of the preceding donation levels (which includes a permanent 25 percent discount on top of the freebie). 

Oh, and Wood points out to us that the contribution deadline is Black Friday, the day holiday shopping season starts in earnest, and that "we're giving donation gifts of local art and merch, not to mention coffee gift certificates. It works out perfect for people who not only want to support the coffeehouse, but need gifts for Xmas that don't come from a big-box store.

"We honestly didn't plan it, I swear," she adds.

Those wary -- or just weary -- of campaigns from Indiegogo, Kickstarter and the like may dismiss the endeavor as begging, even considering the donation perks. However, Wood didn't like the idea of a potential investor compromising her vision or failing to fully come through. And a business loan wasn't an option in this economy.

"When I really thought of it, the amount of inventory needed to not only run a cafe, but a quality cafe, is a strain enough on the cafe's income that, when you add in a loan with interest, it was just to scary," she says. "Doing the IndieGoGo was a clean slate, a fresh start that improved my chances of success and getting me through those who-knows? first months.

"I've had to work for everything I've ever done in the scene from scratch, so might as well keep that theme going with Avant Cafe!"