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Patrons Hope to Resurrect Artist's Escape Next Door

Even though Saturday marked the last day the Artist's Escape Cafe, Bar and Arts Gallery was open for business, regulars hope to carry its essence next door.

The Artist's Escape, located at 137 E. Franklin St., had a liquidation sale Saturday morning, selling most of the furniture and leaving much of the cafe bare.

"Everyone has a feeling of sadness," said Rafael Tosado, a friend of the former owners, who was helping serve drinks for the night.

But in May, regulars hope to open a cafe that also will cater to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and its friends. The new cafe will be located in a space next door, which has been vacant since Rock Art closed its doors.

Meredith Weiss, one of the former owners, said rent for the Artist's Escape is $3,000, and the space next door would rent for around $1,500. Conveniently, the patrons already had raised around $1,700.

Fund-raiser Lee Davis said the new place will have a different name but that not much else will change. It will serve only desserts but will maintain the traditional coffee shop atmosphere and will serve beer and wine.

"It will be inspired by the ideal created at the Artist's Escape," Davis said.

The Artist's Escape showcased local art, live music, coffee, food and a lounge with couches and a jukebox.

Weiss compared the closing night to the last day of high school. "People were exchanging numbers and e-mails," she said. "It was the last time we will all be meeting here."

Weiss said she had mixed emotions but looks forward to moving on. "It was kind of sad," she said. "But it was great."

Weiss opened the Artist's Escape in June 1999 with her childhood friend, Joe Caldarone. Both owners said they are proud of the diverse atmosphere they fostered and that they are glad it meant so much to so many people. But both said they are ready to try new things in life.

Caldarone said he plans to go back home to New York, while Weiss is not sure of her plans yet.

When they announced that the cafe would be closing, many were upset. Some were even led to tears, Caldarone said.

The announcement prompted about 30 regular patrons to begin searching for donations to raise the required $4,500 due to the landlord by Sunday.

Donations ranged from $1 to $400 and came from a wide variety of people. By Saturday afternoon, only around $1,700 was raised, and patrons cited a few obstacles to their goal.

"The problem is time," Davis said. "We've had a lot of people say if we have a few more days, we could help out."

Although the new space will not have as many features, such as a kitchen or a patio, as the Artist's Escape did, regulars say they are ready to tackle the job. "It will be exciting to undertake something new," said Troy Wood, a sophomore biology major from Lexington.

Davis said he plans to meet with the landlord today to see if they can rent the space out.

Woods pointed out that what makes the Artist's Escape so appealing is not the space, but the people. "What really creates the atmosphere is us."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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