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The Dartmouth
February 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

A Soundtrack to Go With Your Latte?

One writer chronicles a week of sights and sounds in Novack Cafe.

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We all know it. We all love it. We all wish that our favorite back-of-Baker almost-Starbucks would stay open until the midnight hour DDS promises it will. There’s something about Novack — the nighttime oasis, the constant chatting, run-into-your-freshman-year-fling atmosphere that we all collectively can’t stay away from, no matter how long the line is. This week five, I decided to take a moment each day to soak up the songs, the energy and the overall vibes of Novack Cafe during 22F.

Sunday

For my first attempt at canvassing the Novack vibe for this week, I took an evening study break from Blobby, only to find the cafe closed and shuttered just minutes before 9 p.m. Unlike weekday evenings, Sunday is an almost exclusively Hop scene for late-night eats and good vibes. There’s the occasional straggler in Novack sitting at the empty tables and a few groups sealed away in the always-reserved study rooms, but in general it’s the calmest Novack will be all week.

Monday

Soundtrack: “L.A. Love” by Fergie, “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor

Novack served up immaculate mid-2010s middle school energy today, with all the characteristic craziness of the 11:15 a.m. passing period. Between the Novack cashier wearing a Cafe@Baker visor, the rhythm of three annoyed calls for a long-forgotten blueberry scone and many, many lattes with extra shots, the sonic buzz created quite the comforting study space. Novack is a particular haven for those of us that need ample ambient study noise to tune out our own thoughts. Like, “Wow, I don’t want to be working right now.” Or, “Is it awful if I have just one more coffee? Normal people have three lattes a day, right?”

Tuesday

Soundtrack: “Harder” by Deon

Mid-afternoon at Novack, and it’s prime time for a post-lunch caffeine boost. A slick hip-hop beat always reminds me of the feeling of being alive in this era unlike any other. Novack’s high-energy flow made the line — stretching all the way back to the Berry stairs — a little less unbearable.

Wednesday

Morning soundtrack: “Lost” by Frank Ocean, “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber, “Style” by Taylor Swift, “Team” by Lorde

Wednesday morning served calm and gentle vibes with a string of Frank Ocean songs. I had “Lost” stuck in my head for most of the day after a few hours sitting at a Novack table. Right around 11:00 a.m., when the big rush came in, the aux rather abruptly shifted to a pop-radio nostalgia mix, with a solid dose of JB and pop-diva era Taylor. The tunes got me thinking about 2014, the year “Style” came out — being somehow eight years ago? This might be a classic case of the time speeding up as you get older phenomenon, but this lineup of songs transported all of us in Novack back into a nostalgic mid-2010s moment. It was also a great soundtrack to a biology problem set or two.

Afternoon soundtrack: “Thique” by Beyoncé

My friend, Cara, texts me to say they’re playing “Thique” by Beyoncé in Novack as she is reading Freud’s “Civilizations and its Discontents.” Beyoncé shifts mean that as the workers dance and laugh, somehow every friend of the baristas on shift finds their way into the line. This makes the line take longer, but it’s a warm reminder of the beautiful closeness of this place. As I order my iced latte with oat milk, a friend behind the counter makes it with a smile. It’s a sliver of that 22F buzzword — community — right here at Novack.

Thursday

It’s 10 p.m., and there must be 50 people waiting in line for a coffee or a croissant. There’s no music playing, which shatters the idea of taking a mental break from the late-night scaries (for some of us, they aren’t just confined to Sunday). I slot myself into line and catch up with a friend — who also looks acutely stressed — standing a few people in front of me. 

Sunday

Soundtrack: “Mírala Bien” by Wisin & Yandel, “Guaracha Sabrosona” by Alberto Pedraza

It has been exactly one week since I started my Novack observation experience, and Sunday night does not disappoint. Upbeat Latin music pumps out from the only slightly busy cafe, which has (gasp!) just one chocolate croissant left in the case. I decide to call a friend to tell him that Novack just might be the perfect place to do his campaign canvassing for South House senator, and shortly he walks in with a thick stack of campaign posters. As I stroll away from the line with my late-night almond milk latte, a girl sitting at the front table asks me to sign her shirt. 

“It’s for my sorority,” she says defeatedly. In this moment, Novack is the perfect microcosm for Dartmouth as a whole — a unique, unexpected blend of extroversion and traditions and definitely-not-even-close to hazing — but I’m living for it. Though I won’t be Shazam-ing Novack’s songs over the next week, I’ve come away with a new appreciation for this almost Starbucks haven at Dartmouth, in all its moods and sounds.