There is a corner of Mercer Street adorned in a gateway of Christmas lights, bustling with creative forces – a concentrated mass of energy fueling Princeton’s artistic rebirth. If anything speaks of inventive unity, this does. Stand on that corner a minute.
Say, in front of the RiffRaff Arts Collective.
Say, while drinking a cup of coffee from Heritage Cafe.
Say, while listening to the drumbeats from inside Stages Music School, and reading a book from the new library.
Then, basking in the glow of all that, turn and start walking down to the other end of the street.
Why? Because that’s where you’re going to stumble across Sugar Shak.
Cole Thomas of Sugar Shak describes it as “an everyday oasis,” an opportunity to escape the normal and experience the artistic. It is a restaurant, catering service, and open mic venue. It is artists sitting at dinner, playing drums, singing to each other. It is feathery white palm trees sprouting from the tables. It is irresistible mounds of chocolate and cake and candy waiting calmly at the back of the room for you to wander over and introduce yourself.
Sugar Shak is hardly new. It’s existed for five years and is as much a part of the artistic community as any of the other businesses on Mercer Street. And, like those other businesses, the Sugar Shak team has a vision for Downtown Princeton. “To see the rebirth of streets bustling, without people being afraid,” says Cole. It is more, though, than a vision of prosperity. It is a vision of unity. Cole describes a world in which every business, every restaurant, every facet of the renaissance, works together in mutual promotion, – a world of solidarity. The more businesses and creative forces, the better. “The more of a team we are, the better chance we have to succeed,” says Cole – a sentiment that embodies the artistic community.
For its part, Sugar Shak reaches out to anyone who will take its hand. They often cater for events at the Chuck Mathena Center and for Princeton High School, among others. Their open mics – every Wednesday – join with the Monday open mics at the RiffRaff to provide eight different chances per month for the public to experience and express artistic talent. That’s also another set of opportunities for young artists, like the students at Stages, to showcase their skills. And in the larger picture, it is another pulse in the heartbeat of Princeton’s self-expression, another strong link in the circle of friends seeking to uphold each other.
The Sugar Shak gang, like any and all of the other creative groups in the area, seek simply, all-importantly, to sustain those aspects of life every human being requires – expression, communication, togetherness.
“People,” says Cole, “don’t necessarily wake up in the morning thinking ‘I’m going to buy art.’ They wake up thinking of food. Giving people food, and tying it to art, gives people what they need to be at ease. It may be only for an hour, but if they’re looking at art, music, and good food, it takes them away from their lives, and they don’t have to worry.”
And if you’re still just standing there on that one corner outside the RiffRaff, you really should take a minute and experience that ease for yourself.
by Ashleigh Gill