Hey Lil Mamma, lemme whisper in your ear: ‘Whispers is Here’

and | Senior Scene Editors

In arguably the most exciting campus news since the presidential debate face-off in fall 2016, Whispers Cafe has finally reopened after an 18-month period of construction. The soft-spoken cafe’s eagerly anticipated renaissance was plagued by construction delays, mostly due to a surprise appearance of a certain slab of bedrock. But in the interim, an inevitable shift in campus culture has occurred: Current students in the classes of 2020 and 2021 have spent their first one or three semesters on campus living a Whispers-free life. Here, Student Life’s Senior Scene Editors tackle this generational divide from opposite perspectives.

Students purchase food and beverages from Whispers Cafe. The eatery, located inside Olin Library, opened this semester after an 18-month renovation process that began in summer 2016.Jiyoon Kang | Student Life

Students purchase food and beverages from Whispers Cafe. The eatery, located inside Olin Library, opened this semester after an 18-month renovation process that began in summer 2016.

“The Young and the Restless”

Until last Wednesday, I was a Whispers virgin. I was happy, content but also unaware of this almost mythological place—and more than that, tired of hearing how sad it was that I had never been there. I was quite OK with my overpriced Starbucks venti “pink drink” that completely breaks the bank (a strawberry acai refresher with coconut milk instead of water, you should try it), and I made do when the espresso machine had been broken at Einstein Bros. Bagels for what felt like a century. I’d accepted the fact that I hated on-campus coffee and had invested in a little Keurig to satisfy my addiction on those “too early for anything to be open” mornings. When Whispers opened, I didn’t run through the doors, storm the bar and rip through the caution tape to sprint up and explore those beautiful forbidden stairs. Instead, I walked through the doors absentmindedly while on the phone with my therapist and immediately became uncomfortable with how many people were there. After taking two laps of the place, I was forced to stand in a corner because there were no seats free. My bland curiosity had led me to a place of fear and wall-leaning.

To be fair, the place is nice. The wall-to-wall windows left me feeling sunburned with significant eye damage, and the fact that no one actually whispers there is confusing, but Whispers felt less like the New Age cold prison that is Bauer Hall—despite being modern, it maintains the homey warmth of Bear’s Den booths. I liked it. I could be bougie and get fancy tea—and Kayaks-quality drinks—all on meal points. But I still went to Starbucks the next day, and I was so happy because no one was there. They were at Whispers. I finally got a table. A table next to an outlet, even. I sat by myself, watched Netflix and decompressed after getting out of my intimate, participation-based, 12-person class, like the little introvert that I am.

My main qualm with Whispers is a personal one. I’m not a social eater, or rather, I value the time I spend alone, and while I still love my friends an infinite amount, I also hide from them during the day. Like, if we make plans, I’m so down to get a meal, but the thought of the social anxiety that comes from eating with an unknown amount of random people and swimming in those social waters makes me break a sweat. Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum are the people that “hold down the fort” and fight to keep the big booths for only their friends and socially maneuver so they always have someone to eat with, in the prime spot and the best place. Most of these people used to occupy Bauer. So, I guess what I’m saying is that Whispers is cool. I’m glad we have it “back,” but I don’t know if I’ll be spending my time there. You’ll find me in Bauer, or on the third floor of the Danforth University Center hiding in the Harvey Media Center or (on a rare occasion) slurping down some artisanal tea with a special friend in Whispers.

Students study and eat snacks in Whispers Cafe. The cafe offers tea service and elevated drinks, in addition to the options also offered by other campus eateries through Bon Appetit.Jiyoon Kang | Student Life

Students study and eat snacks in Whispers Cafe. The cafe offers tea service and elevated drinks, in addition to the options also offered by other campus eateries through Bon Appetit.

“Old enough to be your RA”

Walking into Whispers last week was like running into an old flame. A rush of emotions flooded my brain as I pushed through the glass doors—nostalgia, trepidation, disbelief and giddy excitement, all rolled into one. Was this really happening? After all these months of watching and waiting from a distance, I was finally allowed into the space that had long denied me—with caution tape and fences and reprimands from construction workers, like “you can’t go in there” and “it’s for your own safety” and “seriously, you again?”

The beginning of my relationship with Whispers, while it was still open, was sweet and unremarkable: I never did find a booth, but I enjoyed stopping in to grab a coffee on my way to class or even passing through to warm up on a freezing day. In reality, I took it for granted—I didn’t realize what I had, right at my fingertips, until it was gone.

But the sweet taste of reunion last week was tinged with resentment, too—our relationship hadn’t been all soy lattes and blueberry bagels. There was real pain in my heart. After all, Whispers had been the reason that, for several weeks last semester, a large portion of the student body was forced through an incredibly small bottleneck between Rebstock Hall and those imposing green fences while construction progressed. As I spent extra minutes walking my bike along the south side of campus to avoid the cluster of bodies, I felt that Whispers—a place where I had once felt comfortable, safe even—had betrayed me.

So, my initial reaction to the grand reopening was a complicated one. I didn’t feel ready to trust Whispers, but it easily won me back over with its shiny new fixtures and fancy tea service (seriously, Washington University how much more bougie can you get?! Not to be hypocritical—I confess that I did order the Moroccan Jasmine Mint green tea, and I liked it). Plus, the giant spiral staircase adds a cool, aesthetic touch to the space. And the new vegan menu items are a big plus for me personally—I audibly gasped when I spotted a sign advertising the “vegan mocha blast,” which is a phrase that I never knew I needed in my life until Whispers brought it about.

I stood in the middle of the new Whispers last Tuesday, fraught with emotion, crowds of students swirling around me. (Upon reflection, I was probably really in the way.) It was nice, to be sure, but after such a long interval, strangely unfamiliar.

“You look good,” I said.

“I’ve changed,” Whispers replied.

And, truly, haven’t we all?