By Terrence McCoy
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"There was a little bodega next to the old Shoppie Seconds. People would always come in, go next door, and buy Cuban coffee or buy a beer, and then come back to my shop and sit down to talk and hang out. So I thought, Oh my God, I have something here! I can fuse the two together and have a café and a furniture store," he explains. Thus was created the Corner Muse Café (210 NE 18th St., Miami), a funky second-hand furniture store/eatery where just about everything is for sale.
Customers enter a bright, sunny space with lime green walls, and sit down for meals at miscellaneous pieces of furniture. Some tables are ornate dining room sets with straight-back chairs, some are low coffee tables nestled between plush easy chairs, and some are more unique, with mosaics made from pennies or marbles.
That kitschy stained-glass chandelier you were admiring while you sipped your freshly squeezed fruit juice can be yours if you ask the waitress to take it down for you.
The menu offers a growing selection of soups, salads, delicious sandwiches, and refreshing smoothies. The back room is chock full of unusual home décor and artwork. A lantern made from a tin washbasin hangs from the ceiling. African masks stare vacantly from the walls. A plush beige sectional sofa occupies the rest of the space.
Scharnitz plans to add comfortable, well-lit outdoor seating, and he dreams of an organic produce market taking over the side street on the weekends. Once the Corner Muse Café obtains its beer and wine license, an intimate bar area will be opened in the back room, and most of the clutter will be cleared out of Shoppie Seconds. So far, business has been good. Sort of.
Seated in the café with Scharnitz, The Bitch took a bite of her tofu burger and gazed out the window at a hooker meandering down the street in the blazing afternoon sun. The colorful entrepreneur was wearing a pink candy-striped miniskirt and high heels with socks. A teddy bear backpack dangled from her thin shoulders.
Scharnitz's experiences as a proprietor in one of Miami's most notorious havens for prostitutes and vagabonds have prepared him for strange encounters. "At the old Shoppie Seconds, I would give [the prostitutes] water and be nice to them. Now I'm like, 'No, you can't come in here.' People have tried to break in. Even the gym next door has been broken into. You would think they would put more lights up around here, with all the money the city is getting. It seems like it's getting worse. I've called the city and talked to whoever I can get a hold of," Scharnitz complains. "I'm kind of disappointed."
Scharnitz sighs. "If you want to make this a residential, pedestrian place, with all these people coming in they want somewhere to walk, somewhere to go then put some more visible policemen out. Put more lighting out. And work with the small business owners to make it a better, safer community," he says. "But you know, so far, so good. There's new people all the time. I have a good product here, and business is spreading through word of mouth. We're definitely a diamond in the rough."
Meanwhile a bar-lounge-hangout with the extremely unfortunate name Bullfrog Eatz has opened at the former Shoppie site. The operation's overseer, who will identify himself only as Chef Jeremiah, promises, "We have a high-powered team of professionals working very diligently at turning a raw warehouse space into the new hangout for Wynwood." (The Bitch thinks this will be some feat, because the stealth eatery is not actually in the Wynwood Art District.)
Passersby may nonetheless be attracted by Bullfrog's nighttime wall projections of bootleg cartoons, Iron Chef reruns, and kung fu movies. Chef Jeremiah insists a full-service kitchen will be ready for a late-February grand opening, followed by the acquisition of a liquor license in April. For now, beer, wine, and snacks are served along with some grandiose ambitions.
"Our team consists of five resident DJs, local artists, and mural, print, sculpture, and mixed-media artists," Jeremiah adds. "And we are currently seeking local bands and musicians for our live venue."