The building looks like three-fourths of the buildings on this stretch of Cherokee: The white paint almost conceals a neatly lettered "Wilkommen" hard against the same welcome in Bosnian; a span of three empty storefront windows and a single door are set on the very edge of the building, perilously close to the alley. Painted vertically next to the door is the word "Neshui," the last three letters larger than the first. At first glance, this is another shuttered business, nestled between the flourishing Mexican restaurants and grocery stores that add some much-needed life and color and music to the neighborhood.
Second glance almost confirms the first: A couple thousand square feet of hardwood floor are visible through the window -- blank except for back in the corner, where a drum kit is set up next to a pawnshop amp.
"I know what you're thinking," says Bradley Hodge, owner of Neshui Publishing, as he opens the door. "This is the perfect spot for a poetry reading."
Neshui's new location at 2838 Cherokee Street is the perfect place for a lot of things. The front room of this one-time butcher shop is cavernous, with stark white walls and high ceilings providing a natural echo for the impromptu recording sessions that often break out -- which explains the drums, amp and secondhand guitars that sit in the corner. Hodge cues up a tape of ridiculously funky fuzz-bass. "One of my neighbors," he says by way of explanation. "He's a preacher, but he plays this P-Funk stuff."
The preacher's riff throbs as Hodge shows off the rest of the facilities. There's the commercial-grade espresso machine, suitable for a coffeehouse. It sits on a kitchenette-style countertop next to a tangle of microphone cords and a Tascam 8-track recorder. Up a little flight of stairs and behind a sheet of plastic stretched across the doorway is Neshui's nerve center. An offset press, a decades-old guillotine paper cutter and a battery of copy machines share the space with stacks of books in various states of assembly. Hodge's desk sits inside a makeshift plastic tent, to maximize his little space heater.
Maximizing the minimal is what Neshui does best. Hodge and his small staff edit, print and assemble the books in-house, shipping them out as individual orders come in. Neshui's most recent book is Swimming in the Ground, a collection of new Hungarian poetry edited by Michael Castro and Gabor G. Gyukis. Neshui also publishes small runs of "art noir" fiction and meditations on pop culture, but the recent move to Cherokee has slowed down the publishing schedule. A February trip to Budapest to film a documentary (funded by a grant from the Hungarian government) about some of the poets featured in Swimming in the Ground has further sidetracked Hodge (and caused the phone to be disconnected).
Right now he has to paint the walls and disassemble his office tent. The First Thursday Salon, a local poets' collaborative, makes its public debut on Friday, March 18, at Neshui. Bob Lowes, Amy Debrecht, Nancy Powers, Amy Clark and Eric Schramm read their work at 7:30 p.m., followed by deluxe tours of Neshui, all free. The usual reception food and drink will be available, and if everyone is lucky, the preacher will show up with his kids and lay down some fresh funk until the wee hours, adding a little more life and color and music to Cherokee.