Orange-State-Oil-Company-European-Street-Café, Park and King

by Tim Gilmore, 6/18/2012

Somehow she’s ended up here, at this bar inside European Street Café at Park and King Streets in the center of Riverside, drinking a local beer called a Bold City 1901 Red Ale, looking at the faces of these strangers with whom she’s seated. Somehow, over a beer, a moment of epiphany.

Between the sidewalk and the restaurant are half a dozen tables. The restaurant is colored pink and bright blue-green and yellow. Inside, the dome ceiling is high. Strangers, new to the city, new to their teaching jobs at the University of North Florida on the other side of town, sit at the bar and get used to each other’s faces, voices. To the left of the bar, you buy Kinder Eggs, cheesecake, tiramisu, or a case of Kingfisher Indian Lager. To the right of the bar, you sit down to a Reuben sandwich, a knockwurst and pastrami, a tabbouleh hummus pita. Somehow these strangers have ended up here.

In 1941, the building that would house European Street Café was the Park Street Orange State Oil Company service station. In 1941, gas stations were built in generally classifiable architectural styles. 2753 Park Street was built with strong Art Deco and Art Moderne sensibilities, sophisticated enough to one day bring to Florida minds a European street.

But the thing that everyone immediately notices about this building is that it may, in fact, blast off into space. The central tower that condenses into a tall spire standing up among the trees looks like one of those Buck Rogers 25th Century Rocket Ships from the comics and movies of the first half of the 20th century.

Somehow, something epiphanic. She looks at the faces around her. She would call it panic, as in the uber-reality of a panic attack, if it weren’t such a glorious thing. She is struck. She is struck by these faces. She is reminded of the reaction she has to seeing cheetahs or panthers at a zoo, when she thinks, “My God, what a wonderful, awe-inspiring animal!” But there is something else. And she is reminded of Whitman who saw God in the faces he met on a busy street. She is struck by God and she is struck by the wonderful animal. This is what it’s like to look into the faces of human beings.