Argus-Eyed Zarf: ’60s coffee house

The walls in Burt basement have a lot to say. Down from her home in Anchorage, Alaska, alumna Wendy Withrow recently visited the old hangout and coffee house she started in the late 1960s.

UMHB Museum Curator Betty Sue Beebe enjoyed meeting Withrow.

“Her energy and spirit of adventure are contagious.  It is easy to see how she would have initiated such a thing as the coffee house in her student days,” Beebe said.

As a sophomore, Withrow met some locals who played guitar. She and her new friends were unhappy they didn’t have a place to play folk music.

“There was nothing to do on campus. There was no student center. If you didn’t have a date, there was no place to go unless you wanted to go to the gym,” she said.

Withrow took the issue up with the president at the time — Leonard L. Holloway. She told him that students needed something to do, and she wanted to open a coffee house.

Alumna Wendy Withrow reminisces in the old Argus-Eyed Zarf location, Burt Hall basement. The coffee house was open every Friday and Saturday night for students to listen to music, drink coffee and hang out. (Courtesy Photo)

Alumna Wendy Withrow reminisces in the old Argus-Eyed Zarf location, Burt Hall basement. The coffee house was open every Friday and Saturday night for students to listen to music, drink coffee and hang out. (Courtesy Photo)

Holloway said he would think about it, and Withrow took it as a no. A couple of weeks later, he told her to look at a room in the basement of Burt with an outside entrance by the trash chute.

Despite the cluttered interior and dirt floor, Withrow thought it was great. Her sister Madeline Hoherd, who attended Baylor at the time, came down one weekend, and the two cleaned out the room.

Hoherd said the idea from her sister did not surprise her.

“Wendy and I had grown up on the west coast (mostly in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle), and we missed its folk music and coffee house culture …. It seemed natural for her to want a venue where she and other folk musicians could gather,” she said.

After Christmas break, Withrow returned to a new room.

“They (maintenance) had spray painted the whole room white. It was kind of nice because it played down all the duct work in the ceiling, but it also made it look like a hospital, which was not exactly the ambience I wanted for a coffee shop,” she said.

To spice up the walls and provide character Withrow got creative.

“I bought poster paint and paintbrushes so people could paint on the walls so it wouldn’t be so white and pristine,” she said.

Hoherd painted sayings on the walls along with her signature blue flowers. In one spot it says, “Can you find all 13?”

The comments and drawings remain even today. The name for the hangout took involved research.

“I decided I had to give the coffee house a really cool name, so I looked through the A’s in the dictionary and found the words argus-eyed. Then I went to Z and I found the word zarf,” she said.

Withrow thought the words were appropriate because Argus was a giant from Greek mythology with many eyes; therefore, argus-eyed means observant and a zarf is a metal cup-shaped holder for a hot coffee cup.

The hangout was open every Friday and Saturday night, and patrons could buy instant coffee, apple cider or hot cocoa for a dime and listen to performers.

“It was open mic. Anyone who wanted to bring their guitar and kind of play could have their turn on stage,” Withrow said.

Beebe is glad Withrow wanted to share the story of the Zarf.

“I was very pleased that she visited the campus for the first time since she graduated, and to get the full story about the coffeehouse,” she said. “I knew there had been one established at some point, but did not know the details or who was responsible for it.  This is a great story of student activities for our campus history.”

Author: Lauren Piercey

Lauren is a senior Mass Communication/Journalism major with a minor in Art and English. She is from the extremely small town of Plantersville, TX where she grew up with her two younger sisters and an assortment of animals. She became the transitions page editor after finally caving into joining the staff. She loves writing and is confident God will help her find a job after graduation in May. She also enjoys cooking, reading and tripping over her own two feet.

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