In Homeric myth, Odysseus fools Polyphemus the man-eating cyclops by getting him drunk, telling him his name is “Noman,” and driving a spear into his eye. When the other cyclopses ask Polyphemus who hurt him, he says, “Noman!” and Odysseys escapes in the confusion.
Meanwhile, Noman Coffee in the Mission has an horchata latte with a slightly more down-to-earth provenance than The Odyssey: It came from one of the baristas’ abuelas. Still, the caffeine-filled shipping container that doubles as an art gallery and performance space has a lofty streak worth of its name. The art on the walls and the beer in the taps is edgy, but on a recent morning, instead of Beach House or Phantogram, the music inside came from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.
While steaming the horchata for my latte, cofounder Nick Danby says this is part of the larger mission. The work that’s currently up on the walls is mostly by the staff and people they know personally, but future shows will be tightly curated and priced at affordable levels for the young-and-broke types who are Noman’s target demographic.
“It’s important for us to make sure it’s affordable,” he says. “Original art will be priced accordingly. And if we’re selling people’s art, we’re not taking a huge cut like some galleries.”
Noman has a limited live performance permit — which the city awards to businesses for which entertainment is not the primary purpose — and access to a parking lot when the electricians next door aren’t open. For the most part, that’s Saturday after 2 p.m., and all day Sunday. “We can’t go hog-wild, but we can get away with a lot,” Danby says.
That means drag shows (Diego Gomez, a visual artist who also performs as Trangela Lansbury, is a cofounder of Noman) and live music (a partnership with Death Records is under discussion, after Danby helped out at Deathstock, the label’s music festival in Guerneville last month). And hot-dog-and-sausage food truck What’s Up Dog is able to park on the asphalt at other times.
Noman’s co-proprietors are all artists: illustrators, drag queens, and dedicated baristas, the kind of people who pursue careers in coffee rather than merely waking up at 4:45 a.m. a few times a week to pay the rent while working on passion projects. (They’re more Polyglamorous than Polyphemus, you might say.)
And then there’s that homemade horchata latte, which is creamy and sweet without that one-dimensional saccharine quality such drinks can take on. Espresso shots and drip coffee alike come from Proyecto Diaz, but if you’ve had all the buzz you can take for one morning, Noman also pours Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, Lagunitas IPA, and Firestone Walker’s 805.
Hard by the noisy Central Freeway thought it may be, it’s a pointedly relaxing place for a drink. You just might have to be a little patient with an creative type doodling on the same iPad-and-Square Noman uses to run debit cards.
Encountering a little trouble, Danby says, “This is what I get for using the register to make art.”
Noman Coffee, 55 Duboce Ave. 415-341-2344