A lot of Orange County coffeehouses aim to create a place where constructive talk and ideas are being stimulated almost as often as the customers' nervous systems. Instead, most have become just a quick stop for refueling--in a to-go cup, preferably.
But at Cyrano's Coffee House in Orange, conversation is more than just a spontaneous exchange between friends who come in for a cafe latte. Topics are cultivated every Thursday evening during an open discussion and debate.
The only prior consensus reached among the ever-changing group is to "agree to disagree," according to moderator John Beringer, who by day happens to make a living as a professional mediator. Whether there are five or 25 in the group on any given week, the intention is to give all participants a chance to articulate views on the topic du jour, which Beringer usually chooses minutes before the chat session begins.
Subjects run the gamut from headline spin-offs such as homosexuals in the military and the social circumstances in Africa to debates about men's role in society and equality among the sexes.
The topics might seem esoteric or intellectual, but once the group gets going it's apparent that the conversation is accessible to everyone. And everyone has an opinion.
Beringer steers the session, restoring order when chaos creeps in and changing the format slightly when it no longer works. Speakers are encouraged to direct their passionate responses to him rather than toward the person they disagree with.
"Establishing this format diffuses confrontation while still allowing for the exchange of information," he says. The search for the ever-allusive truth is not on the agenda.
"Talking allows us not to feel so isolated from the world," Beringer says. He started the weekly sessions when the coffeehouse opened two years ago because he says he "felt there lacked a sense of community."
His "community" now includes a range of ages and backgrounds--brokers, housewives, retirees and assorted students and staff who attend nearby Rancho Santiago Community College. Some come to the sessions every Thursday.
The group meets outside on the patio, surrounded partially by lush foliage and illuminated by tiny white lights threaded along trellis archways. Chatty smokers are allowed to light up. The rap runs from 7:30 to 9:30, with a midway break.
Of course, other even less formal groups assemble in and outside of Cyrano's on Thursdays as well as at other times during the week.
On Mondays at 6:30 p.m., a much younger following attends, more intent on listening than on talking--during the children's story hour. Live music fans can enjoy classical, folk, jazz and blues on Friday and Saturday evenings after 8:30. Jazz finds a regular spot every Wednesday night.
Besides coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks, a lunch menu offers mostly sandwiches and salads from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The county's best and longest-running disco party has moved to a new location. Disco 2000, formerly at the now closed Club 5902 in Huntington Beach, brightens up Thursdays at the Empire Ballroom, 640 17th St., Costa Mesa. (714) 722-6100.
* CYRANO'S COFFEE HOUSE
* 7446 E. Chapman Ave., Orange.
* (714) 289-1031.
* Opens daily at 6 a.m.; Closes Sunday through Thursday at 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at midnight.
* No cover.