Democratic Vistas

Savoring a cup of revolution at Lagunitas' Western Gate teahouse and bookstore

Scott Traffas prepares a cup of jasmine tea for a visitor to the Western Gate Revolutionary Tea House and Book Commons during a break in the rain last week.

The newly opened space, a combination cafe, community center and bookshop, is located in tiny downtown Lagunitas, the proverbial and literal “gate” to the greater wilderness of West Marin.

“It’s a potent medicine spot,” says Traffas, a yogi and writer. He pours tea as the conversation swings from Walt Whitman to Guy Debord and beyond, all in pursuit and in celebration of ecstatic affirmations—and an engagement with politics that’s focused on a deep-dive into ones’ surroundings.

Western Gate soft-opened in November, and Traffas says he hopes it becomes a place where “threshold consciousness” can manifest, a zone for self-expression and cross-pollination. And tea.

The aim is to bring people together in a sprawling West Marin community filled with artists, permaculturalists, free-thinkers, wood-workers, hippie survivalists and various mystics, weirdos, writers and freaks of all flag-waving variety. They don’t always want to come out of the hills or beaches to hang with like-minded souls over tea and radical books. Traffas hopes they will.

Western Gate is as representational as it is geographical. The West in literature and lore is a place of death and rebirth, of transformation, a cultural crossroads where East meets West, the past meets the future.

And the Lagunitas teahouse is at the literal edge of a vastness of natural beauty. “In bio-systems, that’s where all the creative energy and action is,” Traffas says.

The community space, says Traffas, sprung up out of a question he and his partner, Juliana Birnbaum, had puzzled over. She’s a doula and midwife, and a writer on permaculture and sustainability. The question: “What would it mean to live integrated, ecstatic lives in third-millennium America, rooted in the particularities of West Marin?”

Beyond the gate, politics is harsh and governed by the imperatives of the spectacle, as the Marxist critic Debord wrote in his landmark

Society of the Spectacle. Western Gate, Traffa says, aims to “draw people back from their hyper-level of idealism and see that there’s something much more politically potent in your local community and culture. What can you do to help the people who are right around you? I don’t know the answer, but we want to foster a conversation.”

And the tea? It comes from renowned leaf grower and importer David Lee Hoffman, who lives up the hill. Jasmine tea and Walt Whitman, it turns out, are a perfect rainy-day combination.

Whitman celebrated the “essence of Democracy and the essence of the American enterprise,” says Traffas, with a vision of a shared American spirit grounded in its grand experiment.

Within the shared vision, says Traffas, “we are set free to express our radical individuality.”

Western Gate Revolutionary Teahouse and Book Commons. 7282 Sir Frances Drake Blvd., Lagunitas.