One of the greatest honors in life is to be so special at what you do that you are known by one name. You know: “Liza,” “Cher,” “Oprah” or “Mickey.” The only local I know who fits into the one word moniker pantheon is “Aldo.”
I don’t know if you know Aldo; he owns Aldo’s on Front Street in Greenport. If you’ve been there you know that Aldo makes the best cup of coffee and bakes the best biscotti and the richest scones. Aldo’s cappuccino is the stuff Italians weep over. His espresso isn’t the watery kind usually served out here; it’s frothy and packs a wallop.
Aldo’s shop is eccentric and Old World. The interior is decorated with Italian racing bikes, a working motorcycle, pictures of the “old country,” paintings and antiques. Sit outside in Aldo’s garden and the solitude and seating reeks of Ravello. Aldo’s baked goods and coffee are a big part of the charm, but the real draw is Aldo himself.
The word “character” was invented for Aldo. As has been written before, with his mop of curly white hair and somewhat drawn face and dancing eyes, Aldo physically resembles Harpo Marx. That’s where the comparison ends.
Harpo was silent. Aldo is no stranger to speaking out. Think Soup Nazi. What time does Aldo’s open? When he feels like it. What days is Aldo’s open? When he feels like it. Aldo’s has a phone. Don’t trying calling. He’s not going to answer.
If you’re on the long line of those waiting to get into Aldo’s and Aldo is talking to an old friend and you have to wait for your double shot latte, that’s too bad. You wait. Aldo is talking. Aldo is a showman, artist, raconteur, personality, chef extraordinaire, storyteller and sardonic humorist.
A couple of years ago, the powers that be at that soft, sleek, coffee chain from Seattle decided they would open up one of their dandelion-like, omnipresent, forest green chain shops across from Aldo’s. The line in the coffee beans was drawn downtown for the heavyweight championship of Venti.
Starbucks arrived with its “design team” and constructed prefab walls in soothing colors. Aldo’s thumb-tacked a few extra postcards on the wall, keeping its ramshackle look. Starbucks wheeled in the Wi-Fi. Aldo turned up his vinyl opera records. Starbucks displayed home brewers and coffee presses as Aldo cursed his rickety yet reliable antique coffee roaster.
Starbucks hung out planters from the company store. Aldo let the honeysuckle and mint run rampant in the garden of his outdoor deck. Across the street baristas in their neatly pressed uniforms kept the lines moving in an orderly fashion. Aldo continued to entertain and not pay attention to the crowds waiting outside his hand-painted front window.
Starbucks served in its recycled paper cups while Aldo civilly placed at table cloth napkins and French china for you to enjoy his brewed delights, thick scones and jam. Like the Red Coats, Starbucks was losing ground to the ragtag rebels. Seattle brought in hip tie-dyed guitarists to appeal to the alienated, pierced crowd while men and women in pink shirts and rumpled khakis read the New York Times, shifting their posture on their well-worn loafers while waiting to get in to see Aldo.
This week, as Starbucks announced it was packing up the Prius and heading back to Rain City, I like to think the good Lord let us know that he prefers small towns. On that day, as the line moved forward at Aldo’s, just over the sound of violin music you could hear the little man from Greenport let out a chuckle as he yelled, “Next!”
Mr. Coates lives in Riverhead and serves as an adviser to Supervisor Sean Walter.