With the milkshakes of a ’50s soda fountain, the baguette sandwiches of a French grocery chain, and the Turkish coffee of a Moroccan hotel, Café du Marquis manages to stand out in the ever-growing club of downtown Royal Oak coffee shops.
The establishment is owned by a Croatian immigrant named Davor Gavric. According to a friendly patron, Mr. Gavric took a keen look around him when he arrived in the States, concluded that Americans like hookah and coffee, and voila- Café du Marquis, a coffee shop and hookah bar.
The café certainly has plenty of both, but what sets it apart from the endless mediocre hookah lounges is the confusing (and appropriately American) combination of influences. A dusty painting, gorgeous chess sets, and an armored bust all sit next to some understated Dwell-worthy photography. Gumball machines stand near a huge bin of old National Geographic magazines. Reupholstered chairs sit at octagonal marble tables. The name is an enigma – Café du Marquis, with the iconic fleur-de-lis painted on its sign, has only mediocre baguettes and espresso to justify its name.
The menu similarly lacks any cohesive theme. Delectable Turkish coffee and sundry pastries might entice the bohemian, while the free wi-fi, fancy coffee drinks, and ample seating seem directed at students and professionals. Most endearingly, soda cans, chip bags, and candy bars provide a mini convenience store to the lost youth that seem to have stepped out of My So-Called Life to form the other third of Café du Marquis’ clientele.
Patrons appreciate the heterogeneous décor as part of the café’s charm, but not as a studied appreciation of style-less style (shorthand: hipster). Instead, the atmosphere creates a sort of liminal space through its inclusiveness. Café du Marquis is comforting because it forgives patrons for their disparate likes and evolving senses of self. It doesn’t mind if you don’t match.
This might be why, as one loyal customer said, Café du Marquis survives on regulars. People feel at home here –accepted as they come- and so they return. Some return for the reclusiveness of the hookah smoke and dim lighting. Others are coaxed out of that reclusiveness by the open air, chess games, and the banter of their young clients.
Whether you’re venturing out or staying in the smoky shadows, make sure not to leave without getting a Frozen Caramel ($3.75), brought to you in a tall Frenchified soda fountain glass. It’s kind of like amazing homemade ice cream disguised as a grown-up coffee drink. Perhaps everyone just comes back for that.