South Bend jazz club opens culture cafe

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

South Bend — Visitors to Merriman’s Playhouse will have likely noticed changes to the local home for live jazz performance.

Stephen and Mary Merriman, owners of Merriman’s Playhouse, 401 E. Colfax Ave. Suite 135, South Bend, have launched their new culture cafe. Located in the space adjacent to the jazz club inside The Commerce Center, the cafe is one part dining establishment and one part communal space. Visitors to the Playhouse will begin entering via the cafe in the near future, with the option to take its offerings into the performances with them.

Stephen explained that the mission of Culture Cafe is to create a melting pot of human experience, in both the food and in the decor. The space is intended to be a safe place for all traditions, philosophy, diet, music, art, and literature. Books line the walls of all the rooms, covering all subjects, from fictional to philosophical to children’s books. An eclectic mix of art, tables, and lounging furniture fill the space, centered by the coffee counter offering refreshments to patrons. Eventually, a small black and white screen will display past performances from the jazz club.

“We are representing little bits and pieces of the human experience on earth,” he said. “It’s how I look at jazz, drawing off of all of these cultural traditions, but not a prisoner of any one amalgamation of the human experience.”

Initial food offerings include coffee drinks, sandwiches, soup, and gelato. Also available will be the traditional Italian dessert, affogato, gelato “drowned” in espresso. In addition to a variety of flavors, toppings, and decaffeinated options, Merriman envisions a kid-friendly version made with root beer. Additional food and drink will be added, some of which will come from suggestions by the public, with the goal of offering a broad representation of food culture from around the world.

The Merrimans want patrons to share their experiences, finding a space for connection, blending, and learning, while being open to embracing their differences instead of fearing them.

“Being a human, we’re such interesting creatures,” said Stephen. “I want that to be really celebrated, the diversity of our human experience.”

They want visitors to put their worries down and relax, enjoying quiet time with a book and a beverage or having a good conversation. Culture Cafe will intentionally not carry alcohol in effort to have an inclusive space for all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

The name “Culture Cafe” was whittled down from several other more complicated names. Stephen recalls realizing the power in the two simple words, reminding him of the Ernest Hemingway story “A Well Lit Room”, where each and every element was important and nothing was wasted.

“It was quite a process to get that simple,” he said. “Which is a lot like jazz and making art.”

Initially, Culture Cafe will be open from 4 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays for the regular Jazz Open Sessions, as well as any day there is a live performer scheduled. Eventually, the goal will be to open every day and expand the hours to open 9am until 9pm.

Information on Merriman’s Playhouse and Culture Cafe can be found at

Justin Flagel is the founder of Red Chuck Productions, where he writes, tells stories, and creates new media. Follow his work at Feedback can be directed to