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With Wand Of Graphite, Artist Captures Essence Of Breakfast At Bill's

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With wand of graphite, artist captures essence of breakfast at Bill's<br><br>By SUSAN LUDMER-CLIEBE Ajqw<br><br>NEWS SPECIAL WRITER_________‘ ^ *<br><br>Every American town - big city or small village — used to have at least a couple of eateries that looked like they belonged in an Edward Hopper painting. They were as much a part of the American landscape as tail-finned automobiles and cement sidewalks.<br><br>Not pretty places; not fancy places. But places you could go to get a square meal for a couple of bucks, tops. Places where diners sat hunched over counters and the conversation, more likely than not, was about the weather. Places where seven days a week, strangers and regulars alike could feel at home, where the coffee was black and hot and you could get breakfast anytime. Places like ... like Bill’s Coffee Cup, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Liberty Street:<br><br>“We try to keep it the original way it was — like a 1950sdiner,” explains Beth Vlachakis, who, with her husband Ted, runs and owns Bill’s Coffee Cup. Bill’s is a local icon, an Ann Arbor institution. The Vlacha-kises hope to keep it that way.<br><br>In its forty-odd years of existence, the small restaurant has had a succession of owners and names — it was once Mallis’ Coffee Cup, and more recently, Liberty Junction. When they bought the place four years ago the Vlachakises knew they had something special. “It was unique in the design, all counters and no tables; and also because of the different personalities<br><br>of customers,” says Beth Vlachakis.<br><br>The Vlachakises may have changed the menu around a bit, adding daily specials and such, but basically Bill’s is just like it’s always been. “People come all the time. It’s like a family,” says Beth Vlachakis. “We cater to regulars — some have been coming in for over 47 years,” she says. “ Some are in their 80s.” She doesn’t even need to ask some of them what they’ll have. “They order the same thing each day,” she says.<br><br>But the Vlachakises and their long-time customers aren’t the only ones to find Bill’s a special place. Laurice Wade, 30, a local artist, stepped through the door 11 months ago and things haven’t been quite the same since. “Bill’s captured her artistic eye,” recalls Vlachakis. “She found there was a lot of character and flavor in the place.”<br><br>The result? “Two to three days a week Td go in to sketch,” says Wade.<br><br>Using graphite and china markers, Wade made hundreds of sketches. She made portraits of counter regular Uncle Louis and Lynn the waitress; of lawyers and retirees; of bus drivers and jokesters who wondered why she didn’t get their noses “quite right.” She made sketches that showed the energy of the place; and others that seem contemplative, of people alone, lost in their thoughts.<br><br>It was quite an experience, aesthetically and otherwise, for Wade. “We tend to stay in our own little social and business circles,” she says. “As an artist,<br><br>Bill’s is a place where I can meet just anybody. There’s less of a limit on the type of person there. There’s more freedom for me to work.”<br><br>Technically, Wade found it a challenge as well. People were constantly moving - eating, smoking, talking or pouring coffee. The changing scene demanded that she work quickly. Accuracy was often forsaken for a different kind of “reality.”<br><br>Wade didn’t just draw. “When you’re drawing it’s an intimate situation,” she says. She listened to the stories her “models” wanted to tell, laughed with them and heard their criticisms of her work.<br><br>The criticisms were tempered by the fact that people liked being sketched by her; they were interested in Wade’s magic graphite wand and what she was doing with it.<br><br>Then, like Topsy , an idea occurred to Wade and Vlachakis both. Why not an art show? “I thought it was a fun thing she was doing,” recalls Vlachakis. “I felt that a lot of customers would be interested in seeing their drawings.” The result? Starting today. Bill’s Coffee Cup will be hosting a show of Wade’s drawings called, appropriately, “Breakfast at Bill’s.”<br><br>The drawings will be on display at Bill’s through Nov. 21, and all are for sale. Personal invitations have-been sent out, including one to Bill Stamoulis, the original Bill who owned the place over a decade ago and still comes in now and then. The public, of course, is welcome too.