What is this place? Cafe? Bar? Church?
At the intersection of two downtown streets in workaday Renton, Washington, across from the sandy-bricked Renton High School and around the corner from a Safeway superstore, there’s a venue that defies definition.
“We get asked every day, ‘What is this place?’” said Gretchen Mertes of Luther’s Table, a cafe-cum-bar-cum-nightclub-cum-community hub that just happens to be run by a Lutheran church.
At a recent open-mic night, an audience of 75 listened as eight performers took turns on the stage, strumming guitars and crooning to the crowd. It's among the most popular weekly events on a schedule that includes Theology Pub (“We’re taking this Bible study to the bar,” reads an event description) and Socrates Cafe, which smiles upon contemporary philosophizing.
Some performers show up to sing every week, belting out everything from Bruno Mars to Simon & Garfunkel. Others, like a trio of two men and a woman, were first-timers, harmonizing, “How did you love me, Jesus? I’ll never know why you loved me so.”
Jesus references tend to make Mertes cringe, although any kind of lyrics are fair game provided they're family-friendly. It’s not that Mertes, 40, is anti-Jesus -- far from it.
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