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Mama Buzz Cafe not quite a hub for honeybees

Think Cafe Suzie, but less clean and more modern; Indie, Berkeley co-op-esque; a place where you can chill and relax, put your feet up on the tables and sip $2 coffee. Above the entrance is a red, neon-lit sign that shouts “MAMA BUZZ.”

Mama Buzz Cafe, which opened in 2003, is located on Telegraph and 23rd in Oakland and features vegan and vegetarian food.

The Mama Buzz Cafe neon sign. (Priscilla Wilson)

Right as I entered, a lady behind the counter, wearing a white crew neck shirt with a faded design and jeans, greeted me. She had a huge grin on her face as she poured me a cup of lack-luster coffee. For being such a central hub for hipsters and locals to come and enjoy themselves, the coffee is not up to par.

The menu is minimal – all options fit on a humble blackboard. These options include dishes that range from $4 to $6, like the Real Deal, which consists of scrambled eggs, toast, cheese and coffee, to the California Pig Bagel with cream cheese, faux bacon, tomatoes, garlic and cucumber. Aside from mundane French roast coffee, drinks include lattes, Italian soda, wine, beer and tea. There is also a variety of desserts on the menu, from cheesecake to brownies, but by the time I got there (7:30 p.m.), there was only one vanilla vegan cupcake left that looked like it had been sitting on the counter all day. Naturally, I did not budge a dime to purchase it.

The vibe was tingling but calm, like a Death Cab for Cutie song. There was a constant murmur and the ambiance was dim and intimate. A beat-down, ubiquitous household refrigerator made the occasional buzzing and clanking sound, adding to the place’s energy. There was a patio that consisted of mismatched chairs and couches embedded with the smell of cigarettes. Plaid-wearing men with glasses drank beer in the moonlight on the patio. But the romantic scene was quickly interrupted when, right as I stepped back inside from the patio, the boisterous sounds of the the bathroom’s inadequate plumbing rung throughout the space.

Adjacent to the kitchen was what I assumed to be the art gallery and space used for musical performances. Work by local artists lined the walls, including portraits of faces and a landscape of a tennis court. Jessica Tang, a first-year art major at Mills College, said she thought the art was amateur and not what she expected would be displayed at a venue with a highly-regarded art scene. Even from an ordinary observer’s point of view, I was not impressed. The art was not at all captivating and I wouldn’t consider paying $140 for an ink blob on a canvas.

Although the cafe’s Web site said Musician Zoe Boekbinder was scheduled to perform Feb. 25, this was not the case. I soon learned that the site had not been updated. A guitarist and an accordion-player took turns performing instead, playing their own material and a cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”

The crowd was small, about eight people total. The mood was casual, mellow and somewhat rugged. People came in and out and chatted with one another, but there was a sense of snootiness that circulated in the atmosphere. I could sense a certain level of underground pride that regulars had as they sat and bobbed their heads subtly to the strum of the guitar as it reverberated in the room.

Perhaps it takes a certain kind of person to appreciate a place like Mama Buzz. It may very well be an acquired taste, but in any case, Mama Buzz remains popular. It’s a destination for many young and artistic folks in the area looking for a place to relax, enjoy mediocre coffee, observe questionable art, listen to music and enjoy a stogie out on the patio.