Helios: a downtown Raleigh coffee-God

Helios was imagined as a handsome god crowned with the shining aureole of the sun, who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day to earth.

I am imagining in 2002, when Gray Medlin opened cafe Helios at 413 Glenwood Ave, he envisioned a chariot powered by coffee beans. And to give a little extra kick to the business, and his customers’ experience, he added local art, wine and food.

Stuff of the gods.

Since living in Raleigh for 9 years (would be 10, except I recently spent 1 in Brooklyn), I’ve gone from knowing about “that coffee shop on Glenwood South where so-and-so works” to an occasional customer…to preferring it to any other place downtown where I can take my laptop, order a happy coffee or tea (perhaps a bite), and enjoy my surroundings.

(Third Place is my all-time favorite, and not technically located downtown. To me, it’s got this mid-90’s family thing going on. Cozy-serious-Dad has coffee with grungy-intellect-Son. Post coming soon.)

Helios manages to keep that open-space feel while accommodating quite a few people. Each wall is lined with comfortable seating, tables and outlets. A few tables hang out in the middle of the room, and the bar is even a great choice because of the slight yet solid barrier between the you and kitchen.

The lighting above the bar is sun-like and hangs beneath an open white-washed, warehouse ceiling. You just can’t escape the sun here. It’s bursting in from the front doors where the walls on either side are also glass and square windows open up the middle section. On this window sill you’ll find what I think are homemade liquors sunning themselves to perfection. (There is also a garden across the street). And even in the winter the back door is open, something I always find myself grinning about. Maybe it’s a southern thing, or maybe it’s a nature-connectedness thing, but I love a back door slightly ajar.

Finally, you may have noticed a lack of detail in my food/drink reviews, and lack of them completely, but I hope to do more reviews like my posts on Bu.ku, Jibarra and The Pit this summer. For now I am on hiatus due to the saving of bones or clams, or whatever you call them – so suffice it to say, Helios’ coffee is damn good, their loose leaf teas are the jam, and the food is quality. Oh, and they have beer on tap. Like I said, stuff of the gods.

Join them for brunch on February 5th!

Amplified Art and more

This nifty idea tops the charts and kicks off my art tour. Located in city market in the newly renovated space beside Subway – apparently it smelled like deli meat in there until they put down new floors and up new walls – the store front faces Martin Street (224. East Martin, to be exact).

Amplified Art gallery and boutique welcomed me in on a cold First Friday some time before the holiday haze hit and it was like finding a ruby in a treasure chest of familiar gold and silver pieces. I quietly picked up the gem, put it to the light and then placed it safely in my pocket. Having it ignited a plan that had been coming together, that I didn’t quite know my head had been hatching until it simply arrived, to visit – no, really get to know – the following art spaces. And I say art spaces because the extension of ourselves known as art may happen to live in a gallery or museum, retail shop or hole in the wall.

The tour…

Amplified Art – Concert, band and artist artwork of various forms; posters, bulletins and portraits. Purchased a piece for the Flaming Lips show at Disco Rodeo I went to in 2006.

NC Art Museum – (2110 Blue Ridge Rd.) The exterior impressed in a glance while standing in line for an outdoor movie this summer, so I can only imagine how glorious it will be inside. To see: Norman Rockwell exhibit, John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, and Nancy Baker’s installations in the park. Going next week, during the day, by myself. Ahhhhh.

Nancy Baker – (324 Martin St.) Brooklyn born and raised but working and gracing Raleigh with her art at her studio, The Tire Shop. The Betrayal is in the NCAM’s permanent collection, a must see as well. Visit date to be determined based on a variety of factors…and my mood…how artful.

Ahpeele – Adam’s studio off Capital Blvd. gives fans a peek into production and rewards you with discounted items for purchase. Bonus art: graffiti.

Southern Swank – Word is the retail collection here is art-minded. Located in the back on the 1st floor of Father and Son Antiques, this would make for a rad treasure hunt day.

Send me your experience! If you check out or have a fond memory of any of these art hot spots let me know, I’d love to hear it and maybe even follow up on any suggestions involving missed adventures like “you didn’t take a left at the back door and go up the hidden stairs to see…? crazy!”.

the Downtown Dame returns…2011 style

It’s been a while…and with a new year comes new resolutions. I for one have never liked the idea of resolving to do something good for your self and life on January 1 of any year. It seems pretentious and doomed for failure. It’s as if you might not have given it any thought until New Year’s day approached and then you said to yourself, “Ya know I should really ____, everyone else is doing it”. So, I am of the mindset that we should always be searching for ways to improve ourselves and resolving to follow those paths, carpe diem style.

But I do have to admit, when it comes to resolving to quit vices and commit to any type of
regime, it does help to feel like you’re starting out with a bang. That you’ve been given a extra boost, a clean slate even. And it is just a feeling. In actuality January 1 doesn’t hold special powers to help you quit, start, stop, go – but if you believe it does, it does, right?

So, here at Downtown Dame, I want to encourage you to follow your creative passions in life. We all have something – whether it’s growing plants, long boarding, cooking in your own kitchen with a treasured cookbook, recovering chairs, making jewelry, the possibilities go on – and it’s searching these passions that lead to greater satisfaction and happiness. That said, if there is something standing in your way, keeping you from exercising and practicing a creative passion – sit down, close your eyes and figure out how to work around it, reschedule it, or get rid of it completely. I strongly believe that creating is one of the few things that can sustain us through the turbulence of life, that can be a place where we find peace – so, this year my resolutions are about clearing that path.