Monday, June 24, 2013

My gourmet lunch at the Public Library

I was sitting in the Public Library's Map Room Cafe last week, eating homemade banana bread and yogurt parfait, and I realized every seat was taken. Maybe 30 people had dropped by to enjoy hand-crafted sandwiches or scones and fresh, hot soups. And I thought, "This is so cool: I'll bet people come to the library just for this reason and stick around to sample a book or a CD."

Of course, I was in the Boston Public Library at Copley Square. But I couldn't help thinking that Charlotte's main branch might increase foot traffic if it had a lunch spot like this one. I was in the part where you order from the counter; there's an adjacent area for more traditional restaurant seating and table service. And this was in a neighborhood where lunch options abounded.

Some years ago, I served on a public committee that assembled suggestions for a revamp of Charlotte's Main Branch. Everyone seemed to like the idea of adding an eatery: at best a cafe, at least a coffee shop. As I recall, that idea never went further than a small kiosk selling coffee and packaged snacks in the main lobby, and that kiosk eventually disappeared.

I'm not sure whether the Main Branch or another large branch, such as South County on Rea Road, could be adapted to serve hot food. Perhaps the restaurant would fail if it were out of sight (say, in a windowless room downstairs at Sixth and Tryon), and perhaps Charlotteans would have trouble accepting the library as a food destination. I am sure that, if this were done half-heartedly -- if it were a slightly improved version of the coffee kiosk -- it would swiftly become irrelevant.

But the Map Room Cafe remains a destination for my wife and me every time we go to Boston, and I saw some of the same people on Wednesday as I had seen two days before. I heard French and what sounded like a Scandinavian language spoken by the customers. A woman brought a book and read through her lunch hour; a man surfed on his laptop. Could a Charlotte branch achieve the same homey effect?