With all the great coffee shop options in Sacramento, it’s easy to become what I like to call “Coffee Lazy.” You can walk to The Trade from Temple (it’s like five steps), Old Soul Weatherstone to The Mill, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, from Insight on 16th street to Identity on 28th. It doesn’t matter where you are in the Grid, you’re bound to bump into a craft coffee shop. And I’m not complaining here, but one thing surely missing is the chance to get a coffee, a sandwich and a free ukulele lesson, all in the same building.
That’s right. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head out to the beautiful Folsom area to check out one of the coolest places I’ve stumbled upon in the last year: Nicholson’s MusiCafé. Attached to The Nicholson Music Co., the café was opened a few years ago when Erich Nicholson, the shop owners’ son, noticed that there were a lot of bored parents waiting for their kids to finish up their music lessons.
“I thought it would be cool to have a little coffee cart and a waiting area,” Nicholson says. But then the opportunity arose to purchase the empty shop next door, and Nicholson says he decided to jump on the chance to have a full café.
“It was a lot of work,” Nicholson says. “It was a lot more complicated than we thought, and a lot more money! But we wanted to do it, and do it right.”
After the lengthy process of licensing and construction, the café opened in 2013, much to the delight of patrons of the music shop. Nicholson says that the shop hosts and teaches over 400 lessons per week, from guitar to flute—a little bit of everything.
The music shop itself has been around since 1985 and has an impressive selection of musical instruments. And unlike the big box stores, Nicholson’s will set up every instrument purchased there for free. Nicholson says that’s one huge piece of advice he’d give to anyone looking to buy an instrument—don’t do it online!
“It’s like learning to ride a bike with square wheels,” he says. “I can have five models of the same guitar and each one will sound different.”
Nicholson says that their priority is making sure you have the right instrument for you, playing perfectly the moment you leave the shop. Well, unless you don’t know how to play; they have lessons for that.
The café is cozy, with a giant guitar tiled into the floors, a stage in the corner and a welcoming staff that is ready to make you a delicious turkey and cranberry sandwich and a hot seasonal beverage. Their coffee is sourced from Equator Coffee out of San Rafael; Nicholson recommends the MusiCafé Brûlée, which has freshly torched sugar on top for those of us who enjoy cracking into it (don’t pretend it’s not satisfying). If it’s too late for coffee, they have a rotating offering of beers with three on tap and bottles to choose from. And if you’re in the mood for an award-winning pastry, snag one sourced daily from the local BJ Cinnamon, the best bakery in California (according to Yelp and Buzzfeed, and yours truly. I mean, those cinnamon buns can stop traffic).
What makes Nicholson’s MusiCafé different from any shop you’ve probably been to is that you can browse musical instruments, buy the Fender Stratocaster of your dreams and hang out in the café as though you’re in your own episode of Friends. Nicholson and gang have worked hard to make sure the space is inviting and a place where people can enjoy the company of fellow music lovers.
Every week, there’s an event guaranteed to tickle your fancy.
On Mondays, they feature a trivia night at 7 p.m. for those of you who are good at things like that; on Wednesdays, bring your bravery for the acoustic open mic night from 6–9 p.m. There is also an “anything goes” open mic night on Fridays from 6–9 p.m. (be appropriate, though; I know you’re too classy to tell dirty jokes or be a creep). Nicholson says he’s seen everything from stand-up comedy to ventriloquism, so you don’t have to be particularly musical—or even a certain age. The events are all-ages, and in fact, Nicholson says one of the favorite weekly performances are made by a classical guitarist in his seventies.
For the weekend warriors of whimsy, head over on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. for a strum-along ukulele class, followed by a more formal lesson from 1–2 p.m., where you are taught how to play two new songs by a ukulele expert. Lessons are free with purchase of at least a beverage (we love supporting local businesses, why not get a sweet treat as well?) and BYOU (bring your own ukulele), or rent one for $10 for the session. Nicholson says if you fall in love with your rental, you can use the $10 toward the purchase.
For monthly events and for those of us who love drinking and art (uh, all of us?), there’s events such as Project Mimosa, which includes bottomless mimosas and an art project for $30 per person. The next one is on Sunday, Dec. 9, from 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Other monthly events include beginner’s bluegrass lessons (taught by an awesome retired prison guard, so be on your best behavior), and a “D’jam session,” where enthusiasts get together to play and share the music and spirit of Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz.
And don’t forget to join the fun Dec. 15 when Nicholson’s will host their third annual Christmas party, where students from the music shop will perform from 4–5 p.m., followed by a visit from a legit classic Santa (none of that creepy mall-Santa nonsense). There will also be a few superheroes (volunteers with the League of Heroes—a local organization that helps kids who have gone through trauma) who will give out gifts to the kids. I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like way more fun than most of your pal’s Christmas parties, where you inevitably get lost in a sea of ugly sweaters, miss out on the “good” snacks and leave covered in cat hair and someone else’s eggnog. Oh yeah, and the Nicholson’s party will have $1 hot cocoa and free treats, along with the chance to DIY some Christmas cards, which I appreciate, speaking as someone who usually forgets to buy them.
Whether you’re looking for a great new coffee shop to venture toward, a new community to join where you can play music or just have a beer while you listen to one of the many incredible artists who pass through the café, Nicholson’s has something for you, or for your boyfriend who really, really wants a new banjo for Christmas.
Whew. There’s a lot going on at Nicholson’s MusiCafé, so you’re best left to check out their robust events calendar on their Facebook (@NicholsonsMusiCafe), or their website at Nicholsonsmusicafe.com.
**This piece first appeared in print on pages 24 – 25 of issue #280 (Dec. 5 – 19, 2018)**