Common Grounds offers unique sights, sounds


BCTC environmental science and sign language junior Katie Stillwell makes a “Turtle Mocha” at Common Grounds on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

By Evan Baber

Walking down a dimly lit hallway on High Street, the atmosphere reflects a museum with pieces by local photographers and artists hanging on the wall.  A moment later,  it’s a concert venue, with the ring of guitar chords and the moan of a harmonica drifting up the stairwell.

At Common Grounds, patrons can experience all this and more with their beverage of choice. Along with being Lexington’s first coffee shop, it showcases art and music from across Lexington.

Among other events such as poetry readings, Common Grounds is a veritable mecca for music.  They host a popular open-mic night every Monday — which regularly draws a full house — as well as live music on weekends.

Looking at Common Grounds from the outside in daylight, one might assume it to be a coffee house like any other.  The nine to five crowd slips in and out of the front door on their way to and from lunch break.  Students, regulars and passerby can be seen sitting by windows, their eyes drifting across a book or the screens of their laptops.

Inside, however, is where the difference becomes apparent. The building Common Grounds is located in was a grocery store and private residence in the 1940s, and the difference between its setup and those of other garden-variety coffee shops is night and day.

In addition to a spacious main room with a stage where musicians perform, tables, leather couches and art meander around the building, making their way up a staircase to more comfortable and intimate rooms overlooking High Street.

“We try to be the quintessential coffee house,” said owner Jim Davis.  “In our shops, you can put your feet up on the furniture.”

Architecture and decoration aside, Common Grounds shines with its Monday night entertainment.  Tables in the front room fill quickly anticipating 8:30 p.m. when the microphones set onstage are put to use.

A tradition since 2003, open-mic night ranges from local acts who play weekly to musicians from all over the state who come to play on special occasions. Genres range from classical guitar to freestyle rap, country western to African drums.

Performances range from the touching to the comedic to the interactive when the crowd is occasionally asked to pick up an instrument and join the song.  Musicians frequently request that the crowd sing along, although if the song is right, they usually don’t have to be told.

“It’s a place you can come and try out new material,” said Jerry Moody, who has used Common Grounds as his creative outlet since he started as a folk singer-songwriter.

“Everyone is always very welcoming,” Moody said.

Acts run from 8:30 until 11 p.m.  Although the house begins packed, as the night goes on the seats begin to free up as early performers and friends-of-friends filter out.  Open-mic regulars, avid spectators and night owls alike gather toward the front of the room to enjoy what are often the most intimate and enjoyable performances of the night.

Common Grounds owes its ambience to its customer, Davis said.  They aspire to be a coffee shop of the people and for the people.  The faces seen there every week become more familiar with each performance, and seem more like family with each passing visit.

“In some restaurants and coffee shops you see a picture of Al Pacino or other celebrities hanging up on the wall,” Davis said.  “Our regulars are our celebrities.”