This city's got a beat, and you gotta hook into it. And once you get the beat, you can do anything. -The Artful Dodger (Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)
For 25 years, The Artful Dodger (aka The Dodger) has marched to its own beat. It isn’t striving to become the most popular one on the block; it’s that friend who’s unafraid of being themselves. The Dodger hangs out with everyone--tells jokes to lawyers over coffee at 8:30am, eats artisan french toast while reading a book during Sunday brunch, dances shamelessly during Friday’s Salsa nights with a locally-crafted brew in one hand, and sits down with people he met moments beforehand during Wednesday’s Board Game night. With each visit to the Dodger, you don’t always know what you are going to get--but that’s exactly why we love it.
For weeks, in preparation of writing this blog, I randomly asked its customers, “How would you describe The Artful Dodger?”
“Anything but boring”, said a JMU student.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” another customer said, and paused. “But I like it. I’m here at least three times a week.”
“It’s a place where I can be myself or someone else,” a regular said as she giggled.
“It's impossible to describe the Artful Dodger in one sentence. Sit, have a cup of coffee and let me tell you a story,” said Thom Metroka, co-owner of The Artful Dodger.
As a regular for approximately a decade, I agree with the owner. The Dodger’s success is due to the emphasis it places on connection, and being as much of an individual as those who walk through its doors.
I describe my favorite local hangout as a living Rubik’s Cube, with its intention being that the sides never match one another. Its personality is vibrant and eclectic. With its decor consisting of eye-catching vintage clocks and radios, neon lights, monthly art shows (which encourage first-time show applications), it’s a haven for the nostalgic and creative side in all of us. During the day, The Dodger could be compared to the most comfortable chair in your living room with your favorite comfort food; at night, push your comfy chair aside and dance underneath neon and black lights.
Whether you’re dressed in a suit, carrying a skateboard, sitting quietly while writing a poem, or pushing a stroller through the door, all are welcome and coexist at The Artful Dodger. Located in Downtown Harrisonburg’s Court Square since 1992, this colorful establishment has an unapologetically unique personality which can be seen in every aspect of its presence: murals, hand-decorated chalk boards, mismatched coffee cups and a range of events that will make one ask:
So...you have drag shows, board game nights, Jazz Night, poetry readings, Salsa Night, djs, art shows and this great menu--all at the same place?!
Although the events are wide-ranging, there’s still a simplicity in The Dodger’s approach. Sure, it’s become a bit of everything, yet it’s simultaneously a place that Harrisonburg residents rely on for a variety of hot drinks, fantastic food specials, friendly customer service, and a place that children are as interested in the decor, and food, as their parents are.
The Artful Dodger is more than a coffeehouse; it’s a hub. It’s also more than a cafe with a great location; it’s a place we go to talk to those we want to connect with. If one were to look around during the lunchtime crowd, they’d hear laughter, job interviews, discussions, witness hand-holding, lip-syncing in appreciation of the many genres of music playing over their speakers, and visible enjoyment of the food they serve. It’s ambience is probably the best I’ve found within the whole of the Burg.
In addition, it’s great for those on a budget. With a $2.00 cup of coffee (which includes refills), free wifi and its infamous Pot-o-Tots (tater tots served in a terracotta flower pot), someone on a tight budget could spend half a day in one of their booths and leave with money to spare. For under $10, you can enjoy a large variety of delicious breakfast options, lunch sandwiches, sides and soups, including vegetarian and vegan options.
"From art, poetry, music, quality food, good companionship, and a great cup of coffee. Beauty in simplicity, but interlaced with the complexity of diversity that binds us as a community - that is what we represent." -Thom Metroka
For me, the best part of being a guest at this establishment is how much the staff truly care about their jobs and those they serve. Staff member, Nicole Rudzik had an obvious look of pride on her face as she stated, “I can be as creative as I want to be [in my job], but I think the best thing about being here is that it’s a place for everyone. It was the first place I was introduced to downtown. I feel like everyone belongs here.”
Anna Ragland, a daytime shift leader, is also an example of the staff’s dedication to The Dodger’s customers. From the moment I walk in, on weekday mornings, she asks how my day is going, and with me giving a kind nod, she begins to prepare my regular order: a cup of coffee, a can of Mountain Dew, and places an order for a BLT sandwich (on wheat toast with crispy bacon and mayo). There’s something about the caring presence of the staff members that makes your first visit feel as though you belong there. It’s not about who you know, or even who you are; it’s about making your day the best day they can.
Twenty-five years is something to celebrate in the life of a business. When I asked Thom Metroka what advice he could give to new business owners, he replied, “[F]ind your niche, find your passion - follow it. Harrisonburg has so much to offer, and so many possibilities. Create something new and unique. Be positive.”
Even after writing this blog, I can’t sum up the love I have for this business in words, or fully explain what The Dodger embodies. What more can I say? It’s The Artful Dodger.
Tuesday night - Student Jazz ensemble from 7-9pm. Followed by a supercharged night of DJ music, dancing and $3 drinks!
Wednesday night - Game Night. For the 1st Wednesday of the month The Dodger will have Pokemon Battle Stadium on the big screen! The 2nd Wednesday is Super Smash Bros! Both weeks games are hosted by 8-bit Oasis Gaming. The 3rd and 4th Wednesday are board game night, with new games coming all the time!
Thursday night - House Party Thursdays. Another high energy night with DJ music and dancing!
Friday night - Salsa Night. They've been hosting salsa night for nearly 10 years now!
Saturday night - The Dodger often hosts theme seasonal theme parties, and they are a known location for drag shows. On the 3rd Saturday of the month, they host Rhinestone Production - Drag Show!
Every Saturday & Sunday 10am-3pm - Brunch. You can not forget brunch!
Written by Angela Carter, an author, poet, motivational speaker, spoken word performer, visual artist, director of outreach at a local nonprofit. Her writing in her full-length poetry memoir, Memory Chose A Woman's Body, was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. Her poetry performances have been featured in a multitude of venues including The KGB Club in Manhattan and Busboys and Poets in DC. Angela is an advocate of the healing ability of the arts. She, her husband, two daughters and two dogs reside in Harrisonburg, VA after relocating, from Bath, England, approximately 10 years ago. The Carters are proud to be a part of Harrisonburg's growing, and caring, downtown community. Read some of her work here.