The “Third Place” is a phrase used by professionals studying the process of community building. The term refers to places in a community that foster continuing and meaningful social interaction outside home and workplace.
Restaurants and bars have always served that role and in the not too distant past, barbershops, beauty parlors and shoe shine parlors were the third place for many.
Barbershops and shoeshine parlors have trended down, but our focus on eating out hasn’t waned. We still love to socialize over a meal. It is our common need and facilitates a camaraderie we crave.
Third places are usually not fancy and or pretentious. They are open and accessible to all walks of life and they facilitate everyone’s ability to enjoy the experience. Third places attract regulars who help create the mood and the tone of the experience for others.
In small Southern towns, there are always spots that emerge as regular watering holes. Most frequently it is breakfast as a way to start the day that brings out that loyalty and adoption of the third place. I am not much of breakfast eater but it was part of my father’s ritual and I occasionally got invited to share it and understand its features.
Way back when, there was the Magnolia Cafe in the Plantation Bell Motel on Highway 82, and then came Shoney’s and the Holiday Inn both on Highway 12. The traditional Southern breakfast of eggs and bacon and grits and a biscuit were daily served up by the hundreds. These days the Starkville Cafe is that Southern breakfast stronghold.
A stint in the Navy introduced me to new foods. I was “country come to town” when I got to Newport, Rhode Island, for Officer Candidate School. One of my classmates was from Brooklyn, and when she took her first weekend pass to go home, she came back with the most wonderful creation of bread. She shared sparingly, but that was all it took.
I fell head over heels in love with New York bagels. That love affair has continued unabated, and so when I get up to New York, which isn’t as often as I would like, my first stop is Essa’s Bagels at 53nd Street and Third Avenue. Heaven is a hot sesame bagel just out of the oven, no adornment is necessary.
That brings me to our quintessential third place. City Bagel is where Mary and Joe Tkach have been serving up bagels since Aug. 22, 1996. When I asked Mary what the date was when they first opened their doors, I had to smile because not only didn’t she hesitate but also she gave me the precise date, not just the month and year.
I started writing this because there was a rumor out there that we might be losing this special piece of our community. It made me think about what we would truly lose if they closed their doors. Let me hasten to add that Mary says they aren’t going anywhere; it was just a rumor.
They have made their restaurant a very special mainstay in our community. There is nothing resembling a franchise about what Mary and Joe have created. They have, either intentionally or by happy accident, created Starkville’s “Third Place.”
Nowhere else comes to mind that so fully meets the definition of a third place. They successfully cross over from breakfast to lunch to dinner without missing a beat of being where we go for a sense of community comfort.
There are some professors from the university who I swear have to be holding classes there since they seem never to leave. I also know of two separate groups of Episcopalians who have claimed a table there for the regular Friday pasta night.
City Bagel is both a daily and a weekend ritual for many. There are more than a few happy groups who regularly attend bagel mornings on the patio with their dogs joining in the outing. Sundays see many denominations enjoying a spiritual experience of communing with friends over a piece of bread with a Jewish heritage. There is something poetic about that.
If you haven’t been, then you should take a lazy weekend morning to sit out on the patio and experience the magic they have created for us.