From the outside, Veronica's Coffee House in Old Town Kenai looks remarkably like an enchanted cottage a lost traveler might happen upon in the woods in some fairy tale. Which is appropriate, considering many of the coffeehouse's customers discover the place by accident, while out for a stroll.
Veronica's is in a historic settler's cabin across the street from the 19th century Russian Orthodox Church, along the route of a popular walking tour past some of the oldest buildings in the city. More than a few of the coffeehouse's customers have stumbled upon the landmark while walking the tour.
A plaque in front of Veronica's says the cabin was built around 1918. Weathered plank siding and buckled wood shingles preserve the building's historic, frontier look. But it's the flower beds in full bloom, a small front yard enclosed by a picket fence and a walkway made of wooden slats leading to the front door that make Veronica's look like someone's Grandma lives there.
Don't be fooled by the quaint exterior, however. On the inside, Veronica's mixes the old with the up-to-date for a hip, modern atmosphere. A major contributor to the atmosphere is the original contemporary art that decorates most every wall provided by Veronica's owner and longtime art collector Mary Ann Alfano.
"I've always been really into collecting art," she said.
Alfano is an artist herself and some of the pieces on display at Veronica's are her own work, but most of the works are originals by other artists, many of them local.
"I use stuff that I've done, things that I've bought. I try to buy a lot of local art," she said.
The background music played at Veronica's can be as modern as the art. Alfano likes contemporary recording artists who don't often make it on the radio, she said as she put in the latest CD by Catpower, the stage name of notoriously moody, New York City-based singer-songwriter Chan Marshall.
The mix of old and new tends to spark a strong reaction from anyone who walks in the door, especially area residents.
"People who come here who live in the area come in all the time or else they come in once and they never come in again," Alfano said.
Ann Davis of Kasilof is an area resident who likes the mix of contemporary and historic. She was having lunch with family members at Veronica's on Friday for the second time in a week.
"I like the atmosphere, the old-town feel with a little bit of modern touch to it," she said.
"They also have really nice food," added Darin Bras Davis.
Veronica's offers sandwiches, quiche, soup and a heartier daily special, often a pasta dish.
Gary Greenberg a self-proclaimed "semi-regular" stopped in for the coffee. He sat at the order counter sipping coffee and talking to waiter Arthur Graham. Greenberg said Veronica's is a good place to meet people and it doesn't take long before other regular customers and the staff get to know you.
"Everybody kind of knows each other," he said. "It's kind of like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, I guess."
Dick Voigtel of Texas and Ken Schrecengost of Washington were having coffee on the deck, which was recently enclosed with rows of picture windows and an arched roof of canvas. Like many visitors before them, the two happened upon the business while walking through Old Town.
"We just stumbled into it," Voigtel said.
The men were on a fishing trip with friends but decided to take the morning off. They especially liked the view of Cook Inlet from the deck.
"We're enjoying the scenery," Schrecengost said.
The two liked the character of Veronica's enough they planned to introduce the place to the other members of their fishing party.
"The atmosphere's terrific," Schrecengost said.
Alfano opened Veronica's which she named after the first dog she owned seven years ago. After a slow start, business has gotten better every year, mostly by word of mouth. Alfano said she's glad people like the place, but for her it's time to move on. Alfano recently put the coffeehouse on the market.
"I have it listed not because I don't like running the place, but it's time to do something else." she said.
Whoever owns it, Alfano said she thinks, for the regulars at least, Veronica's has become not only an historical but a living landmark.
"I think it is part of the community now," she said.
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