Ask a handful of Wi-Fi-enabled laptop and smartphone users to name the greatest thing about modern technology, and no doubt you'll hear that they can now work/bank/telecommute/shop from home in their proverbial pajamas. But if you flip the question — that is, ask them to name the worst thing about modern technology — chances are you'll hear they've been working/banking/telecommuting/shopping in their literal pajamas for so long they're going to go squirrels-in-the-attic soon if they don't start talking to someone other than Siri.
Such is the unintended consequence of breaking free of the cubicle. It's also one factor behind the rising interest in so-called "third spaces." A buzzword in the sociology of modern urban populations, a third space is an accessible, inexpensive venue outside the first two spaces — private home and corporate office — where humans convene to kvetch and converse.
Oh, you mean like a coffee shop? Or say, a bar?
Well, yes. But while kvetching and conversing occur in bars and coffee shops, such community is the unintentional byproduct of a beverage trade.
Atmalogy owner Heather Riney is less interested in selling coffee than she is in promoting space — rooms of one's own, so to speak. Space is the primary commodity at Riney's renovated rambling house on West End Avenue, where she markets comfortable well-appointed worksites anchored around a central cafe.
Riney doesn't describe Atmalogy as a third space, but she agrees that's what it is.
What it isn't, however, is a co-officing situation — that other buzz phrase of modern culture — where a regular cast of entrepreneurs or solo workers arrives to toil under shared overhead expense. There are places like that in Nashville, eSpaces and CoLab among them. But while those collaborative spaces cater to clients with longer-term needs — say, until the IPO takes off or the funding runs out — Atmalogy offers rooms by the hour. Nobody stores their work product or files at Atmalogy, and the house does not offer administrative facilities such as mailboxes or printers. (That said, there's a FedEx and an Office Depot on the block.)
Nonprofit board meetings, baby showers, clothing swaps, workshops, even weddings are the kinds of events that Riney welcomes to her quirky four-square across from the towers at Vanderbilt, where the logo looks like it was reposted from Instagram and the decor shares an eclectic and colorful warmth with the popular lifestyle brand Anthropologie. The name — a portmanteau of the Hindu word "Atma" (one's true self) and the studious suffix "ology" — expresses Riney's hopes that her venue will promote self-reflection by providing space to connect, create, grow, inspire, celebrate, share or reflect.
Actually, those are the names of the rooms for rent, which vary in size, vibe, amenities and price.
The Connect room, for example, has a stage, a wicker hammock chair and a flat-screen television, and can accommodate up to 20 guests. The room called Create accommodates 15 guests, with two large whiteboards, two chalkboards, a flat-screen and a boardroom table. Both rooms rent starting at $65 an hour, with discounts for multi-hour engagements. If no one is renting the room, you're welcome to use it until a paying customer arrives. Friendly signs on the tables advise of the possibility of eviction.
I got kicked out of the room called Grow. My companion and I were just settling down with tumblers of fresh kale-cucumber-apple-carrot-lemon juice, waiting on almond-butter-granola-cacao-nib tortilla wraps, when a customer paying $35 an hour politely ousted us. The Cafe room is always open for non-renting customers, so we found a table among the quiet squatters and shared hushed conversation over tuna melts on sunflower toast and kale-and-quinoa salad.
Remember, Atmalogy is a space-first-food-second enterprise, where the cafe functions as an amenity to the rentable real estate. (In a market where people aren't used to seeking out and renting "transient spaces," the cafe also helps draw potential customers.) If you compare the food offerings to other workspace concessions — office vending machines, for example — Atmalogy just might be the healthiest and most thoughtful snack bar you've ever encountered.
Roast, Inc. coffees anchor the list of espresso drinks, and an array of locally blended High Garden teas from East Nashville stands atop the counter. Fresh frothy juice arrives in a whimsical insulated container reminiscent of a peanut butter jar with a straw through the lid, and single servings of wine come in ingenious plastic grails.
The roster of earthy, grainy and often raw and gluten-free items represents a whole-food style of nutrition we'd theoretically like to adopt. Think kombucha on tap; locally made Vegan Vee baked goods; Greek yogurt, honey, hemp hearts and oatmeal; grilled whole wheat tortilla wrapped around turkey, baby spinach, and raw carrot spread with cinnamon, coconut oil, dates, pecans, ginger and vanilla.
The transparency of ingredients is refreshing, though at times it is also disappointing. Our black bean-corn salad comprised little more than black beans and corn. Spinach-beet-feta salad with almonds ... yep, spinach, beets, feta and almonds.
And while the wholesomeness of the fare appeals to my nutritional intelligence, I can't force myself to embrace all of it. Raw oats and chia soaked in almond milk with blueberries reminds me of old soggy breakfast cereal, and truffle-sized "Atma balls" made of lemon zest and coconut remind me of moth repellents in the sweater drawer, or, worse, Beavis and Butthead. Heh, heh.
Then again, I used to harbor a similar antipathy for kombucha, and now I'm looking forward to my next swig of fizzy fermented tea at Atmalogy, which has become my family's favorite stop on the way home from school. We're not exactly the target clientele, arriving with backpacks of homework and no intention of renting a study hall for $35 an hour. But we're delighted to sip kombucha and cuddle up with a book on the floor of the sunny pillow room (always open, no shoes allowed). If we're lucky, the Connect room will be open and we can relax in our favorite wicker hammock chair. Of course, if you ask Heather Riney, chances are she'll flip the answer: If she's lucky, by the time we squatters arrive, the Connect room, along with all of Atmalogy's rentable spaces, will be reserved.
Atmalogy is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
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