“I’m a gospel artist with a kick.” That’s how Sharnay Dupont introduced herself to the patrons at Bronzeville’s Netup Café this Sunday. She beamed at the crowd, quickly tuned her guitar, and started strumming her next song, “Stop Killing Our Heroes.” Framed by paintings of Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton’s mugshot, Dupont had an appropriate backdrop to sing about the deaths of Martin and Malcolm. Her emotive voice resonated throughout the light-filled coffee shop.
Dupont, up until a few months ago, was just another patron at Netup, well aware of the café’s feeling that Sunday mornings can only be improved with live music. Past performers at Netup’s weekly brunch concerts have included former Wilco band member and current artist-in-residence at the Logan Center Leroy Bach, as well as internationally renowned cellist Tomeka Reid. The hazards of Reid’s constant touring left an open space before the microphone on Sundays, and Dupont has stepped in to offer her own take on Sunday morning music.
The atmosphere at Netup is pleasant. With seating at the coffee bar in squishy black armchairs and wooden tables, the café is a comfortable space for working, reading or chatting. It has a fantastically wide mocha selection and serves a number of other coffee and tea drinks. There’s a palpable friendliness to Netup—owner Jimmie Ambrose has a predilection for giving away 99 cent latte coupons, and he pressed a stack upon me as I was leaving (in fairness, the fact that he noticed I was taking notes may have had something to do with it).
“I felt like there was a real need in the community for this kind of space,” says Jimmie about his decision to start Netup Café a year and a half ago. The space was formerly occupied by Bronzeville Coffee House, and upon their closing, Jimmie saw the chance to pursue his decades-old dream of opening a coffee shop. He has continued Bronzeville Coffee House’s tradition of having live music, poetry and comedy in the café as a way to draw the neighborhood together. He’s worked in the tech world since college, and so he brought an updated twist to the traditional coffee shop: Netup offers a variety of technological services, such as access to fax machines, printers, computer rentals, and, of course, wireless Internet.
While Bronzille is already a neighborhood with plenty of churches featuring what could be described as gospel with a kick, Netup serves up the music along with a great cup of Joe and access to a wide range of office technology—a combo that’s hard to find anywhere else.