A bygone era.

The cafe is empty, save for three customers and what would now be called the barista. Closing time is coming. He wears a white coat and a paper hat as he bends to reach for something under the counter. Behind him on the bar stand two tall coffee urns, ready to serve at not so much as a moment’s notice. The woman examines something in her hands, perhaps a scone or a cookie to complement her coffee, while her fedora-ed male companion chats with the waiter, his own mug untouched. Their hands gently meet, close enough to claim each other, apart enough for him to lift the cigarette resting between his fingers to his mouth. Another lonely customer sits across the bar, newspaper and coffee aside, taking it all in. And we’re all watching from across the street, through the picture window. Perhaps we’re walking home from work or dinner or drinks. We can’t hear the conversation or ask any of the questions we’re wondering.

I don’t know exactly what story Edward Hopper was telling when he created Nighthawks. But to me, it’s one of quiet, everyday romance. This 1942 painting shows American life in another era. In the throes of a war much too long and gruesome, this scene may not have been exciting. It may have been lonely—sleepy, even— but it was one of whispered normalcy. Something America was longing for, and perhaps still is.

I may be a victim of Golden Age Thinking. But I love this part of American history, this bygone era of simplicity and honesty. All wasn’t right, but maybe this moment, just this moment, was.

So when my brother and I visited The Art Institute of Chicago, where Nighthawks resides, I found myself breezing through the Picasso exhibit in town and returning to Hopper. Just something about it. And this mug, well, it called to my soul’s love of art, fine art, the arts. And story.


Monday Mugs is where I tell the stories behind my coffee mugs. Each one holds a story (and coffee, of course) of somewhere I’ve been or something I’ve seen. The photos are my actual mugs, not lookalikes found online. So grab one of your own mugs (fill it with coffee first) and hear the stories of mine. And don’t forget the cream and sugar.

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