Located directly in the middle of seemingly dying downtown Logan, is a sanctuary for intellectuals, free thinkers, hipsters and proud nerds—a small world that reflects every aspect of Logan County that is not conventional. For many, it is a worm-hole to a small universe that is self-described as “The Coolest, Classiest Place in Logan.” For those who have ventured into the Stratton Street location known as the “Hot Cup,” there has not been a person to date who has disagreed with owner Michael Cline’s description of his café known not only for great variations of gourmet coffee, but, in fact, features more than just Java based drinks—way more.
The Hot Cup Coffee Shop is situated on the corner first floor of the historic White and Browning Building that features five floors and a full basement (that once served as a bomb shelter in the “cold war days” of the 1960’s) with doors leading to underground passages beneath the streets. One such passageway led under the street directly to the Aracoma Hotel before it burned and was demolished. There have been rumors that Logan’s infamous ghost mistress of the night, Mamie Thurman, may have been murdered in the building. Also eerie, indeed, is the fact that the entire area was once a large Indian burial ground.
This type of setting fits the iconic cinematic atmosphere found inside the Hot Cup. However, it is anything but parallel with the upbeat employees and clientele that always seem to be enjoying the relaxing atmosphere and eclectic music selection that unmistakably identifies this savory location.
When the common Loganite enters the portal that separates an old town from a “brave new world,” it is soon he or she realizes they are in a place unlike anywhere in Logan; a place that goes against the grain; a place which features diversity. It is more than just a place to talk and drink gourmet coffee.
“I had two goals in opening Hot Cup: 1: I want to serve the best coffee drinks you’ve ever had and 2: We intend to shove a little class and culture down Logan’s throat, whether it wants it or not…..thankfully enough, enough locals DO appreciate this kind of thing”, the owner, known by his friends, customers and employees as either “The Boss” or “Stark,” explained. The nickname Stark is in reference to the movie “Iron Man” which features a character with a personality strikingly similar to his own. The Boss refers to his caffeination station as “a place to shine.”
Featuring live bands once a month, from Celtic bluegrass to heavy metal, the Hot Cup is indeed different, at least for this area. When a band or solo artist performs, all proceeds from door admission go directly to the performer(s), as the owner takes no cut.
On the walls are the paintings of local artists, many of which are painted by local high school & college students. The works of art are for sale, and the sales from the art gallery go entirely to the artists. The Hot Cup takes no commission from the art sales. “It’s a way of supporting the local arts,’’ Cline said. “There is a lot of support for athletics around here, but not as much for art and music. Some of these kids might not have ever realized how talented they are, and it pleases me when we can telephone a person and say: ‘We sold your painting. So, come pick up your seventy-five bucks.’” On the fact that no one else around here is doing anything remotely like this, Cline beams a smile and says “I say, if not us, then who?” For “The Boss,” it appears that he is indentured to promoting his passion for talent and art, as poetry readings are also welcome at the Hot Cup. Stand-up comedy is welcomed as well, and movies, like “Star Trek”, “Iron Man,” and Harry Potter are sometimes screened movie theater style – popcorn and all.
Also featured is the “Nerd Cave,” a new, museum-like seating area in the back filled with “The coolest stuff in the cosmos”, from records by The Beatles to original Lobby Cards from the Wizard of Oz or a print of Nikola Tesla, to famous vintage movie posters, to numerous other relics that quickly catch the eye of a patron, who just might be on a cappuccino or mocha caffeine-infused journey. There is even an authenticated piece of rock from the moon that is displayed on the wall; not exactly an artifact one would expect to find in an establishment planted snugly in the hills of Appalachia. “Think of it as being like a Hard Rock Café for comic book buffs and movie lovers.”
Michael Cline, who believes the various Harry Potter books have done more than anything to escalate young people to the wonders of reading, has built what he has named the “Cupboard Under The Stairs Reading Room”, with many props and curiosities from the various Potter films and a broad selection of books for folks to read. “Kids of all ages really enjoy the room,” he said with a smile. Located outside the shop is another Potter reference, a popular photo opportunity in the form of the 9 ¾ Platform column, complete with buggy disappearing halfway into it.
Pointing out that, after discovering there really was not a place between Logan to Charleston to pick up a “real” cup of coffee, the gourmet java lover gave up what he called a “dead end” job, received a micro loan, and opened the first Hot Cup location in October of 2011, on Water Street, which ironically, many years ago, was the site of a restaurant named Roy’s Coffee Shop. In September of 2012, not even a year in business, Hot Cup had already opened a second location inside the college at SWVCC. Cline refers to that student location as his “mini” Hot Cup. In October of 2013, only its second year in business, Cline moved the home shop from Water Street to the current, bigger, better location on 201 Stratton Street, directly across from the new State Building.
Although Cline is originally from Gilbert, his wife, Shirley, is a Logan native . The Clines live in the Logan area. Nowadays he keeps a guitar, which he likes to occasionally play, in his Nerd-Heaven of an office: an office which shows off everything from his immense action figure collection to the Tony Stark racing suit from the movie “Iron Man 2.”
From the choice of 36 “smoothies,” to “Real Hot Chocolate”, lemonade, caramel apple cider, iced tea and at least 48 styles of coffee, what should not be overlooked is the food selections the café features. From hot bagels to ham, egg and cheese breakfast muffins, to the chicken salad or tuna salad croissant sandwiches, the Hot Cup strives for the best in everything, which includes it’s popular “soup of the day” that could be anything from hearty Tuscan tomato, creamy potato soup, chicken pot pie soup, or garden vegetable with beef and celery. There are other notable edibles such as the “pizza pretzel’ and the pretzel bun bites.
As for being the literal Boss, Cline says “It’s really simple. Just treat people the way you want to be treated. I want to be the Boss that I always wished I’d had” Cline said wryly. His team of expert Baristas is an eclectic mixture of bright personalities. With pride, Cline welcomes employees of any belief, race or orientation, and also welcomes tattoos & piercings. “We love individuality and diversity. I think it’s disgusting that some employers would turn a way intelligent wonderful people simply because they have tattoos or piercings. An employee should be judged on his or her work ethic, skill and customer service. Not whether or not they like to express themselves through unique body art. I have intelligent employees who I can trust and who have a positive attitude, and an open mind.” In one article written about the owner, he is quoted as saying: “Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so that they want to stay.”
When the Logan Fire Department is called out for a fire in town, “The Boss” and his associates try to make sure the firemen are equipped with his shop’s coffee while fighting fires in the cold. For that reason, the local fire department has awarded him the “Challenge Coin,” an award not often given to anyone but a fellow fireman.
While the small coal town of Logan, once bustling with businesses and people full of pride, simply isn’t what it used to be, the Hot Cup has been described by folks as a “red beacon of hope in an otherwise brown and gloomy town.” And, while the coffee shop does add “a little razzle dazzle” to the town, Cline likes to describe his place as a “safe house” for artistic types and intellectuals.
The casual visitor to the Hot Cup quickly discovers the welcome diversity throughout the place, while out-of-town visitors often marvel at what has been called a “place not at all like Logan.”
The location does not sell alcohol and is also considered an after school hangout spot for local students who like other folks, like to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop. “People are always saying there’s nothing for people to do in Logan,” Cline says. “Well, on top of art and entertainment, we try to provide an atmosphere in which everyone is welcome to present their own dialogue. We love open discussions. You might say we are a place where the misfits can fit.”
Recalling one of his customers who was a Logan valedictorian but had always felt like an outcast among his peers because of his differing beliefs and orientation, Cline said when that young man decided to leave Logan County after graduating, he thanked “The Boss” for “providing me a sanctuary.”
Described as an “effervescent visionary” by one writer, Michael Cline loves to speak in liberal ways not so common among most Logan Countians. However, when you sit down with a good cup of coffee and listen to some of his good ideas that could help the community—well, one does need to keep an open mind.
After all, he does own and operate the “The Coolest, Classiest Place In Logan.” And that is something not just anyone can say.