Christian and Jessica in the Shack
  • Christian and Jessica in the Shack
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Meshuggah Shack at the Quartyard

1188 Market Street, East Village

The Quartyard

1301 Market Street, East Village

The welcome counter

The welcome counter

“Ring for kisses,” says the red bell at the counter. “See how it feels.”

Oh, I see: The "See how it feels" bit is talking about the tip jar.

Still, the bell sets the atmosphere.

This means one thing: The Quartyard, a whole town square in the making, is open.

Or at least the Meshuggah Shack, which is built into an, uh, shipping container, is up and running, right here on Park Boulevard, just up from the Park and Market trolley station in East Village. They’re selling every coffee you could imagine, plus teas, pastries, the usual deal. But where it’s at is not the usual deal. Railroad ties keep the dirt floor level, casual tables and umbrellas give you plenty of space to hang out.

And Jessica is setting the vibe.

“John Bertsch is a weirdo,” she says. “He allowed me to decorate up this whole container. It’s only because I’m kinda weird too that he let me.

David Loewenstein

David Loewenstein

"Meshuggah” means “crazy” in Yiddish, she says.

John Bertsch owns the Mission Hills Meshuggah Shack coffee hideaway. Jessica has been with him for the past three years, and now is running this, uh, container. They opened here February 17th, and Jessica says business has been brisk since that first Tuesday.

“We open at six in the morning and we have East Villagers and students from the NewSchool coming right from the get-go.”

This is the project that three architecture students from East Village’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design across the road started as their graduation thesis, and ended up turning into an actual project.

The welcome to Quartyard's first biz

The welcome to Quartyard's first biz

The idea came from a problem: What to do with the empty land filling part of the block between 11th and 12th Avenues, and G Street and Market. Some developer wants to put up a 40-story behemoth there, but not till the time is right. Meantime it has been sitting vacant, unused and an eyesore.

So a bit like in the spirit of pop-up restaurants, these guys decided to create a pop-up community square that would be cheap to put up and easy to dismantle when it came time to move on. They have agreed to up-sticks after two years, if necessary.

One of the students, David Loewenstein, happens to be in the next container — read Head Office of Rad Lab, the company they formed to make the project happen – and he says the “cheap” thing came up against a thousand realities.

So the tab’s already at $1 million.

My $3.50 Crackhead chai latte and day-old $1.50 muffin

My $3.50 Crackhead chai latte and day-old $1.50 muffin

But it’s happening. Come March 7, Grand Opening Day, he says they should have an outdoor sausage-style eatery, rotating food trucks, art galleries, farmers’ markets, a real beer garden and space for gatherings of all kinds. Music, film festivals, fashion shows, even pet adoptions are going to happen.

Who knows? This could become the soul, the social focal point that East Village has been searching for, even if it is temporary. And you never know. Two years could become five. And if not, there are other wasteland lots that Loewenstein and his fellow student entrepreneurs can shift their circus to. If East Village lets them.

Right now I’m sitting at the lone table Meshuggah Shack has, surrounded by shipping containers, ditch-diggers, and huddled groups, pacing out the ground and writing things down. Me, I’m sipping my $3.50 "Crackhead" chai latte that’s actually totally delish. It’s loaded with clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and black tea. Nice to sit in the dirt, watch this part of the world go by, and wait for the whole new community to happen. Because Meshuggah Shack is only the first act.

Can hardly contain myself.

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