Tattoos and Coffee Shops: Fluid Coffeebar

"If you don’t face the darkness, then you don’t have the light."

Tattoos and Coffee Shops: Fluid Coffeebar

Written by: David Zuccarelli
June 11, 2018


Chuck and Alison Scates, co-owners of Fluid Coffeebar in Valparaiso, share their philosophies on darkness, acceptance, and love. 

What’s the story behind the two of you creating Fluid?

Alison: Well, Fluid is the first joint effort business we’ve done together. We’ve been married and together for a long time, and we wanted to open up a coffee bar years and years ago, but we never did. And we ended up having different careers and doing different things, but we came together two years ago and just decided, ‘Hey let’s open a business together.’ We’ve always stayed involved in coffee and up on what was going in in the coffee world, so creating Fluid was the perfect fit for us, and we wanted to do it the way we wanted to do it.

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Chuck and Alison Scates, co-owners of Fluid Coffeebar in Valparaiso, share their philosophies on darkness, acceptance, and love. 

What’s the story behind the two of you creating Fluid?

Alison: Well, Fluid is the first joint effort business we’ve done together. We’ve been married and together for a long time, and we wanted to open up a coffee bar years and years ago, but we never did. And we ended up having different careers and doing different things, but we came together two years ago and just decided, ‘Hey let’s open a business together.’ We’ve always stayed involved in coffee and up on what was going in in the coffee world, so creating Fluid was the perfect fit for us, and we wanted to do it the way we wanted to do it.

Chuck: Looking at the word ‘fluid,’ it’s obviously synonymous with something you drink. But really the name comes from a wider concept, meaning remaining fluid in the things that we do. So that’s where the name came about, but where the idea and feel of this place came about was a combination of us individually, a combination of our living room, a combination of different coffee bars we’ve been to around the country, and it’s pretty much all of our blood sweat and tears that brought this place to life.

Scrolling through your Facebook reviews, there’s one that describes your shop as ‘dark, brooding, but somehow uplifting.’ Is that accurate, do you think? What does that say about you and your shop?

C: Probably that we read too much philosophy.

A: Yeah, we’re really into philosophy and a lot of existentialism. And there is kind of an idea of, if you don’t face the darkness, then you don’t have the light. You can’t have the fullness of life, the full experience of things unless you see the dark, too. If you’re walking around with blinders on and ignoring things, or you’ve got this plastic smile on your face all day long, that’s not reality. So in here, we have dark art, we play dark music sometimes, and sometimes we play the Beatles, too.

C: It’s just a balance of life. There are no televisions around, we try to keep things real. We encourage people to draw in the sketchbooks, and discuss things they may not discuss at another place.

A: Yeah, in those sketchbooks, people just draw what they want, talk to each other in the books back and forth, and it’s got lots of little quotes. I think there’s seven or eight books of them now, all filled up. And we do philosophy group, tarot card group, open mic nights where there’s some really dark poetry and music. And yeah, there’s a lot of uplifting things, too. It’s more of a snapshot of reality.

Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Alison and Chuck Scates of Fluid Coffeebar
Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Alison and Chuck Scates of Fluid Coffeebar

Chuck: Looking at the word ‘fluid,’ it’s obviously synonymous with something you drink. But really the name comes from a wider concept, meaning remaining fluid in the things that we do. So that’s where the name came about, but where the idea and feel of this place came about was a combination of us individually, a combination of our living room, a combination of different coffee bars we’ve been to around the country, and it’s pretty much all of our blood sweat and tears that brought this place to life.

Scrolling through your Facebook reviews, there’s one that describes your shop as ‘dark, brooding, but somehow uplifting.’ Is that accurate, do you think? What does that say about you and your shop?

C: Probably that we read too much philosophy.

A: Yeah, we’re really into philosophy and a lot of existentialism. And there is kind of an idea of, if you don’t face the darkness, then you don’t have the light. You can’t have the fullness of life, the full experience of things unless you see the dark, too. If you’re walking around with blinders on and ignoring things, or you’ve got this plastic smile on your face all day long, that’s not reality. So in here, we have dark art, we play dark music sometimes, and sometimes we play the Beatles, too.

C: It’s just a balance of life. There are no televisions around, we try to keep things real. We encourage people to draw in the sketchbooks, and discuss things they may not discuss at another place.

A: Yeah, in those sketchbooks, people just draw what they want, talk to each other in the books back and forth, and it’s got lots of little quotes. I think there’s seven or eight books of them now, all filled up. And we do philosophy group, tarot card group, open mic nights where there’s some really dark poetry and music. And yeah, there’s a lot of uplifting things, too. It’s more of a snapshot of reality.

Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Fluid Coffeebar
Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Fluid Coffeebar

There’s so much creativity in here, not only the art and the sketchbooks, but also down to the details in the furniture.

C: I’ve designed furniture for a few years, and designed and made the chairs myself. I wanted them to kind of go with the theme. So the chairs are dark and heavy, and a lot of people have described them as gothic church furniture, with the crosses that are on the back. But that’s actually not a cross, that’s a plus, that’s a sign of health. So I designed this whole layout here, and we did most of the work. We had a couple of buddies do some of the carpentry work on the bar that was beyond my abilities, but other than that, Alison and I and some of the employees took down the walls, did the floors, took the ceiling down…

A: It’s the real DIY.

C: Which is part of the appeal. We didn’t have any sort of corporate plot in mind, we wanted it to keep it individual. Whether we do another, we may do another Fluid somewhere else, and it’ll probably look entirely different. People appreciate that, they want to come in and know that it’s DIY, that its mom and pop, know that they’re supporting local arts and local people.

A: Our baked goods are made and hand-delivered from two ladies in Valpo, we have kombucha that’s made in Gary, we have jewelry for sale that’s made here in Valpo. We carry gluten-free bread that the owner of Valpo Velvet makes. We have superfood balls that are made here on Lincolnway. We even worked with Tony and Shannon from Uptown Cafe for a while and sold their sodas here. We like to work directly with people, and we try to have these real local relationships where we shake hands and talk to people.

Why do you think that sort of local, DIY culture is so important? 

A: Well I think the internet has opened up so much for people to express themselves. People being connected has allowed people that are actually doing cool things to be seen across the world. And I think that that’s changed the mindset of people locally as well. So when you’re in Valpo and you you’re thinking ‘Where can I get a good cup of coffee?’ I think people have a more open-minded approach that the little guys can do something pretty cool too. The people at Intelligentsia, who we work closely with, they work closely with farmers, the farmers are getting a fair wage, and it’s just a better way.

C: Everything is kind of a super local level, but the relationships are global because of technology and the times that we live in.

Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Fluid Coffeebar owners Chuck and Alison Scates had their wedding rings tattooed.
Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli

I do want to switch gears and ask you about your ink. It looks like you guys both have your wedding rings tattooed?

C: Yeah, we’ve been married a long time, so we each have a tattoo on our finger, and those are our wedding rings. I always joke that it took a little extra time on the altar, but it was worth it.

A: We actually got these three or four years after we got married, but we knew right when we were married that we wanted to get our wedding rings tattooed. So when my younger brother’s friend Gabe got a tattoo gun, we were like “Yeah sure, you can practice on us.” So we went upstairs in his dad’s attic, drank like Jack Daniels or something cheap, and did these tattoos. Chuck designed them, and then Gabe did them and they turned out pretty good. Gabe went on to move to Virginia, and now he’s been on the cover of all kinds of tattoo magazines. He’s pretty famous, and we were one of the first people he tattooed up in the attic, drinking Jack Daniels.

C: I have another tattoo that involved whiskey as well, but that one… it’s not… it’s just waiting for a cover up. I was 18 at the time—I’m ‘free,’ you know—and I met a guy, a friend of a friend. I went over to his apartment, and there’s this random guy with a tattoo gun. I remember watching him do some crazy wizard scene on some dude’s chest, and I showed him my drawing, and he said he’d do it for a hundred bucks. I didn’t have a hundred bucks, but I did have a pair of these cowboy boots and a bottle of Southern Comfort. So moral of the story, don’t drink with your tattoo artist while getting a tattoo. It didn’t turn out so well. It was a bad trade. A bad, bad trade. I would’ve rather kept the cowboy boots, and I didn’t even wear them.

Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Fluid Coffeebar

What about the tattoos on your wrists?

A: We got these tattoos on our anniversary in The Alley in Chicago.

C: In the eighties, The Alley was the quintessential place for punk kids to hang out, and that’s where Alison and I hung out. The cool thing about having them done at The Alley some time after that, it was like revisiting our youth.

A: Exactly. And the tattoos represent an E. Cummings poem. So we each have the first letter of each other’s names together with the first letter of our own names, and then we have the sun, moon and stars. Which is how the poem ends—‘you are my sun, my moon, and my stars.’ It’s very romantic.

I’m interested in hearing your perspective on tattoos in today’s society, and the shift toward more openness and acceptance that seems to be happening regarding tattoos in the workplace. 

A: I think that everybody’s body is their own, and I think that your body is your canvas. Whether it’s what you wear, what ink you put on you, what jewelry you wear, anything. I think it’s a very personal thing and it’s not up to anybody else, and it definitely should not keep anyone from holding any type of job, I think that’s ridiculous.

C: In some cases, though, we do see the pendulum swinging back. Like for our 18 year-old daughter, tattoos aren’t on her short-list. Even our son, who’s older, he doesn’t have any tattoos. But we aren’t the kind of parents that would stop them from getting tattoos.

Do you think that speaks to how the next generations is just more open in general to different ideas?

A: I think so. I think it was easier before the internet and more information was out there for people to stay inside these small communities or mindsets. Valparaiso was a farm town, and a hundred fifty years ago you couldn’t go further than where you could go on a horse. So it’s been crazy in the past hundred years, and now the information age, that you can see anything you want in the palm of your hand. So I think people are just more open-minded. So no matter where you were raised, you can see how things are all across the world. I think that makes people open their eyes to the fact that people can be different, and that’s ok.

Alright, one final random question: What’s the most important thing about living life?

C: Love.

A: Aw. Same.

C: We’ve had numerous philosophical conversations about that. Obviously material goods aren’t all that important, not in the overall scheme of things. You can’t take much of anything with you. You can’t take love with you, in the end. But it can be the motivation for you to get up in the morning. Legitimate motivation. Do you want to add to that?

A:  Yeah. Love you.

Photo Credit: David Zuccarelli
Alison and Chuck Scates of Fluid Coffeebar