Why: It’s not a school nowadays, but students still come to Bella’s Courtyard, located on the ground floor of The Academy. Instead of attending class, nowadays they hunch over books and laptops as they tackle homework.
Tracy Hein, owner of Bella’s Courtyard since June, hopes patrons of the new main Fort Vancouver Regional Library will join them, along with urban hipsters in search of music and an art scene. The library is scheduled to open in July.
Hein chose the space in downtown Vancouver’s historic Academy building in the hope that the new library, along with the historic landmark that she’s in, will draw more people.
Atmosphere: Step inside Bella’s Courtyard and a coffeehouse nirvana opens up, with brick walls, a slate floor, an exposed white-washed wooden ceiling and a scattering of tables along a goldenrod vinyl sofa. Exposed ductwork lends an industrial art loft feel to the space, which is lit with drop lights and skylights. A piano holds court against a far wall and a community bulletin board brims with announcements.
Visitors can also stroll the halls of the historic Academy, built in 1871 and now mostly office space and a chapel.
What I tried: I wandered in on a weekday afternoon, famished and ready for a coffee pick-me-up. A hand-chalked sign announced the day’s drink special: Spiced Pumpkin Latte. I might have left that for a holiday selection, but on that cold, rainy day it sounded perfect. I also ordered a sandwich combo — a turkey sandwich with cheese, all of the fixings, and a side salad.
The latte was smooth, as far as they go, but I didn’t get even a whiff of pumpkin. Just a standard latte, which was pleasant enough, but not what I expected with the promise of pumpkin and its accompanying spices.
The barista was out of artisan bread, which prompted a reorder on sourdough. The sandwich arrived on a sheet of wax paper atop a plastic paper-plate holder. The salad was pre-packaged, pulled from a cooler in a plastic clamshell container with another side container for dressing.
The sandwich was a towering heap, with plenty of turkey, lettuce and tomatoes, all on chewy sourdough bread. It took an extended-jaw crunch to power through it.
The salad, unfortunately, was wilted, with some leaves fused to the plastic container. I’d order the latte and sandwich again, but next time I’d pass on the salad.
Highlights beyond what I tried: Stone pies, like turnovers filled with sweet potato or spinach and feta cheese, sound intriguing. All of them are vegetarian, Hein said.
Other observations: On the day I visited, several school kids and their parents worked on homework and chatted. Business people also wandered in and out. With its laid-back vibe, it’s a nice place to study, take a quick time-out or meet for a chat. Hein said that some couples are booking the shop for weekend wedding receptions, too — a convenient option, with the chapel in the same building.
When the main Fort Vancouver Regional Library opens its doors, Hein plans to extend her hours and open on weekends, too. Already, the coffeehouse stays open late for First Friday art walks and for a monthly meeting of Volcano Views and Brews, a group that gathers for volcano science presentations on the second Tuesday evening of the month.
Cost: Figure about $6 for lunch and $3 to $4 for a coffee drink.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Where: Inside of The Academy, 400 E. Evergreen Blvd., Suite 115, Vancouver.
Health score: Bella’s Courtyard received a score of 18 for its December inspection. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.