A string of colorful paper cranes lines the counter. Christmas lights along the ceiling. Local art on the walls.
There are families here. Cries and laughter of children as they crane their necks to look up at their parents, or the mountain of homemade scones behind the glass, or the broad menu that offers a range from espresso, to a mocha frappe or the Oaxacan, a Mexican mocha with nutmeg, cinnamon and cayenne. Lots of ladies with graying hair. Groups that always have something to say. The individual engrossed in a book or newspaper or computer or sudoku puzzle.
People come to Raging Sage to talk about life, or to take a break from it.
No music plays. And near the front entrance are orchids, Roger Sliker’s favorite.
Roger and Julie, his wife, with the help of their family, opened Raging Sage as a café and coffee-roasting business 20 years ago.
The family has roots in Michigan, where sometime in the ’90s a new coffeehouse culture had emerged. The Slikers were the first to bring this social, sit-down-and-enjoy kind of coffee experience to Tucson.
They are a family of artists who have built their business as an art form; a true do-it-yourself effort. From the cakes and brownies and muffins baked fresh every day, to the hand-potted mugs and bowls for sale (created by Julie), to their award-winning, one-of-a-kind, three-bean, top-secret coffee blend that you can buy by the bag, to the roasting machine they built themselves, the Slikers have cultivated an environmentally sustainable coffee hot spot for the Tucson community.
Raging Sage, 2458 N. Campbell Ave., just north of East Grant Road, serves the community in more ways than with the Best Coffee in town, a title they’re awarded yearly by Tucson Weekly.
Every Thanksgiving, the café hosts a benefit for Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International, both humanitarian organizations. They gift certificates for silent auctions and coffee to rehab centers. Local magazines and newspapers like The Tucson Dog for animal lovers, the Zόcalo for desert dwellers and the TailWinds for cyclists are laid out for leisurely reading.
Roger valued the human connections that Raging Sage made possible and while he was alive, the café enforced a strict no-talking-on-the-phone policy, and didn’t provide Wi-Fi. After he died, the Slikers reluctantly made Wi-Fi available. Only at 11 a.m. and only at the request of the barista.
“He’s very much in everything,” said Omani Sliker, the granddaughter of Roger and Julie, who has grown up with the coffee shop and began working as a busser five years go. She is now 20, the same age as Raging Sage.
“Our goal was to create a business that sells a sustainable product offered in a warm, welcoming space that fosters community interaction,” said the Raging Sage website.
It’s a space built by artists, for artists. But also for politicians and scientists and teachers. For Omani and her co-workers, it’s “a safe space to be a weirdo.” For Julie, it’s an exhibit for Stone River Artisan, an art company started by the family. For Roger, it was a place to meet and talk.
On Wednesday mornings, a church group comes in. Sometimes a young socialist club will seek the tree-shaded patio for their meetings. And then there’s the Liars Club. A group that was started by Roger and continues to meet daily for a quiche breakfast, coffee and quality conversation. The Liars are nonexclusive; they come and go depending on the day or the weather, they don’t discriminate based on age, they value diversity and intellect, and they’re deeply embedded in the community.
“A lot of us are old farts,” said Tom Bethard, who was tucked into the corner of Raging Sage, under an intricate pencil drawing of a tea bag, with his friend and roommate from 1966, Bill Peachey. They’re a couple of Liars and can be found at Raging Sage almost any day of the week, sipping on what Bill likes to call an “evil conspiracy.”
“You never get tired of their coffee,” said Bill, who has been a regular for 18 and a half years.
The two talk about the Slikers as if they’re proud members of the family, and they talk about their friends like they embody all the possibilities the world has to offer.
“Who’s a better liar than a scientist? Who’s a better liar than an engineer?” asked Bill.
A geologist. A psychologist. Attorneys. Motorcycle enthusiasts. A high-end watch repairman, think Rolex. Writers. A divorce lawyer. A pharmacist, who knits as she sips her coffee. “Token liberals.” A few token Republicans. Astronomers. A glacier specialists, who’s currently tasked with finding comets on Mt. Lemmon. A speech therapist. Landscape architects. A Hopi farmer opera singer. Politicians. Gem show regulars. Musicians. An Iowa corn farmer – sorry, a structural engineer who also happened to engineer the local Co-Op. Videographers. Professors. The designer of the University of Arizona logo.
“Tucson couldn’t run if we didn’t,” said Bill.
The Liars Club talks about the Oscars; they talk about artificial intelligence and archeology and travel, they debate politics and praise each other on published articles and ask about each other’s opinions. Sitting in on one of their breakfast sessions, or in the evening once they’ve returned to Raging Sage after a U of A science forum, you learn things like:
- What a ladino is, a Jewish-Mexican.
- That you have to pay $100 to keep your Emmy award.
- Kartchner Caverns has a sister cave in Italy. Also, Italy has a lot of limestone.
- That University of Arizona tuition used to be $600 and minimum wage was $1.15 and that Speedway used to be the ugliest street ever.
You hear things like:
“What is reality?”
“It’s an illusion.”
“Life is a dream. Did you guys ever see that movie?”
“It’s a very eclectic group,” said Omani. She said that her grandfather liked to talk, that he could talk to anyone about anything and made Raging Sage into a place where conversations like this could live and thrive, like an artform of its own.
“It is my home,” said Omani. “Everyone I could possibly care about, customer or employee, is in the shop.”