When Stephanie Pontillo and David Sabatino recently announced the closure of their 9-year-old Valley Stream coffeehouse, Sip This, the online response was swift and immediate — not just from those who loved the café's lattes and chocolate milkshakes, but also poets, comedians, artists and musicians for whom the spot was a creative hub.
On June 26 — Sip This' last day and night of service — hundreds of those customers, wearing masks, lined up for a block or more of Rockaway Avenue to buy one last iced coffee, a T-shirt or simply pay homage to the place where local students' artwork hung on the walls, patrons could play board games or a piano and trivia nights alternated with open mics and comedy shows.
"It was a haven for local artists," said Peter Arriaga, 26, who was waiting patiently in line that Friday night with his brother, Michael Arriaga, 23, a rapper and singer who had performed at Sip This. "It was the heart and soul of Valley Stream."
At the front of the line, people pressed into the café one party at a time to buy their last smoothies or a Sip This T-shirt. The street out front, closed to traffic, had the feel of a low-key street party, with a few outdoor tables on the pavement and The Beatles "Lady Madonna" blasting through speakers. Inching toward the entrance was Elissa Quinn, who began visiting Sip This six years ago when she moved to the area. She met many new friends there, she said, and found a sense of belonging. "I'm really sad — they worked really hard and had such a successful place, and their coffee was awesome," said Quinn. (That coffee came from Gentle Brew in Long Beach).
Writing about the closure on Facebook, Pontillo and Sabatino said, "We thought Sip This would last much longer and we, our staff, and our families, are deeply saddened by this outcome … there is so much good that was created in our time at Sip This: new love, countless hours of fun, business deals, random connections, shared art, and community coming together through events we helped facilitate." (Messages to the owners from Newsday seeking comment were not returned).
Back in 2011 when they opened, Pontillo and Sabatino cleverly chose a name that evoked the previous tenant, Slipped Disc Records. Sip This would go on to have a strong musical presence of its own in the community — via frequent band performances and open jams — but also a poetic one.
Poet Doreen Deutsch Spungin would host poetry nights for two different groups at Sip This, a place seven minutes from her home that she said she'll deeply miss. "They were so welcoming to the poetry community, and were marvelous people," said Spungin of the owners. "There was a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and belonging. When I learned they were going out of business, I felt so terrible for David and Stephanie. It's a huge loss — it was such a gift, and we are all going to miss it."