Ball jars full of teas and spices wait for the experts at David Rio Chai Tea to blend them into new concoctions.

Morning Chai in San Francisco at David Rio Chai Bar

As you may know, Morning Coffee is my thing. But a good cup of chai is never a bad thing either. So in this edition of our regular “Morning Coffee” posts, guest writer Rachel Heller takes us to David Rio Chai Bar in San Francisco to show us how important such places have become in our modern lives.

A Place Where “Everybody Knows Your Name”

by Rachel Heller

As I entered the chai bar, I spotted my daughter, Anne, across the room right away. Sitting at one of those long tables meant for customers to share, she smiled and waved. Waving back, I approached the counter to order a chai.

The young man behind the cash register smiled and asked, “How are you, dear?”

Taken aback at his over-familiarity, I responded, “I’m fine, dear,” stressing the “dear” to make my sarcasm clear.

Unfazed, he continued, “Do you know that young lady over there?” indicating my daughter.

“Yes,” I replied, puzzled. “I’m her mother.”

“I know,” he said. “Did you know that we’ve had to call the police on her several times, she gets so rowdy?”

Now it was clear: this man knew my daughter and liked her. The fact is, she’s the last person on earth to get rowdy, never mind anyone having to call the police on her.

Isreal–that’s the young man’s name–is in his twenties, I’d guess, and good-looking. When he’s not working at David Rio Chai Bar here in San Francisco, he’s a photographer. He turned serious. “She’s been incredibly stressed, you know. She works unbelievably hard. And she never thinks she’s good enough.”

“Tell me about it.”

Anne, meanwhile, was watching us suspiciously from across the room. I looked at her and, half-jokingly, said, “She spends way too much time here, I think.” Isreal only laughed.

David Rio Chai Bar

This was my first trip back to the US in three years, and chai bars seem to have appeared from nowhere in that time. This one, David Rio Chai, distributes chai worldwide.

The chai bar sits in a strangely undefined part of the city. On the edge of what is considered a “bad” area, the Tenderloin, it is also a just a few blocks from the tourist hordes at Powell Street, home to the famous San Francisco cable cars. Twitter has a headquarters a block or so away, so despite the grunge level–homeless people sleeping on the street–the hipster quotient of the neighborhood is increasing.

The exterior of David Rio Chai Bar. a spot bright with light and inviting with outside tables and planter boxes.

David Rio Chai sits on the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. With a Twitter headquarters nearby, the hipster quotient of the neighborhood is increasing. Photo: Rachel Heller

The chai concoctions they sell are cleverly coded to express the level of spiciness versus sweetness. They’re expensive, starting at $4.50 depending on ingredients and size, but very tasty and surprisingly filling. Coffee in various forms is available too. I never visited in the evening, but the menu on the wall indicates a range of choices in beers and wines for after-work visitors.

The big, light room invites people to stay and work, and many, like my daughter, seem to use it as their place of business. Ample outlets under the seats let them recharge their laptops, and the music level isn’t overwhelming. At the back is a “chai lab” where “experts” experiment with new chai blends and customers can learn “coffee art,” i.e. how to make pretty pictures in the foam on a David Rio chai latte.

Ball jars full of teas and spices wait for the experts at David Rio Chai Tea to blend them into new concoctions.

Ingredients wait for the chai experts at David Rio Chai Tea in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to
come up with some new chai blends. Photo: Rachel Heller

My Daughter’s Favorite Hang-Out

Anne moved to San Francisco to do her Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University. It’s been incredibly stressful for her, partly because the program is extremely demanding, and partly because she is so driven to do her absolute best. At times, she doubted her ability and despaired.

It’s been hard for me and my husband, too, living so far away in the Netherlands. When she was upset, I just wanted to jump on a plane and go give her a hug. When she was feeling particularly stressed, we spent time online, “chatting” with her (I hate that term, since this was all far more serious than mere chatting).

To quote a certain senator, “Nevertheless, she persisted” and finished her MFA. I couldn’t be prouder. (If you’re curious about her work, here’s a link to her portfolio website

David Rio Chai barista Isreal shows off his darling baby.

Isreal, a barista at David Rio Chai in San Francisco, shows off his darling baby. Photo: Rachel Heller

For my daughter, this place has become a home away from home, and I’m not surprised. The second time I met her here, several employees greeted me on sight either by name or as “Anne’s mom.” Two of them, Isreal and Ban, have become true friends to her, listening when she was upset or stressed and sharing their lives with her as well. Anne raved about Isreal’s gorgeous baby, and she was right: the child is beautiful.

As I sit here in the chai bar, writing these words where she so often sits, Anne is out at a restaurant enjoying lunch with Israel and Ban, a gift from them to celebrate finishing her Masters. I’m so glad she found this place and these friends. She needed all the support she could get, and they provided it.

I’m reminded of the old sitcom, Cheers, where “Everybody knows your name.” This became the place for her to be seen, understood and supported.

And the chai is excellent.

Rachel Heller is a Dutch-American writer who lives in Groningen, in the northern Netherlands. She writes about travel at Rachel’s Ruminations, a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites and thoughts on expat life in general. You can follow her on twitter at @rachelruminates or on Facebook at rachelhellerwriter.

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Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another staind-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Moco Museum – Amsterdam’s Newest Home for Modern & Contemporary Art

Amsterdam’s Moco Museum of Contemporary Art has taken root beside its bigger brothers on the city’s Museumplein. And if you like edgy, subversive, and provocative art by the likes of Banksy, Andy Warhol, Dali, and Roy Lichtenstein, you need to see it. Also, if you love beautiful vintage architecture, you get a sweet bonus at what some are calling the Banksy Museum, Amsterdam.

The 1904 Alsberg House, an elegant 3-story house brick house neo-Renaissance details, home to the Moco Museum of Contemporary Art.

The 1904 stately Villa Alsberg on Amsterdam’s Museumplein, home of the Moco Museum. Amsterdam’s newest venue for contemporary, opinionated, subversive and controversial art has also been called the Banksy Museum Amsterdam.
Photo by C. Messier CC license

Amsterdam is a city where museum lovers are spoiled for choice. There are more than 90 museums in the city. They honor everything from historic art masterpieces to kitsch, from tulips to cheese to cigars. There’s a handbag museum, a Bibles museum, and a sex museum. Whether you want to see Rembrandts and Van Goghs, world-class photography, or the rooms where Anne Frank hid with her family, whether you love cats or science or vintage ships, whether its spectacles, pipes, or diamonds that get you going … there’s a museum for that in Amsterdam.

Moco Museum of Modern Contemporary Art Enters the Scene

In 2016, Moco—Museum of Modern Contemporary Art—joined the list as a home for exhibits featuring popular culture icons of op, pop, street art and other contemporary funk. Underground-gone-mainstream artists like Banksy and Warhol, Koons and Haring, Yayoi Kusama and Roy Lichtenstein and others are filling the walls and spaces of a graceful and distinctly non-contemporary 19th-century townhouse on the city’s Museumplein.

Moco is a private museum. Owners Lionel and Kim Logchies have a long-established presence in Europe’s contemporary art scene. Their Lionel Gallery, in Amsterdam’s Spiegel Quarter, was named one of Europe’s top galleries by ArtNet. They have long had an affinity for so-called “subversive art,” like the clandestine street work of the mysterious Banksy. So opening a museum was a logical extension of what they’ve been doing for years. And Banksy and Andy Warhol were the no-brainer choices for Moco’s first star-turn exhibit.

Contemporary Art – Vintage Home

The stately Villa Alsberg was a less obvious choice of venue to house their new contemporary art museum. Built as a family home in 1904, it was designed by Edward Cuypers, whose uncle, Pierre Cuypers, designed the massive and distinctive neo-Gothic style Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam’s Central Station. Edward was trained by his uncle, but developed a different style, with elements of Neo-Renaissance and Jugendstil. Against the elegant backdrop of beamed ceilings, polished wainscoting, and stained-glass windows, the cheekiness of the young, vibrant, edgy art pops out even more. The dichotomy works.

An elegant room in the Moco Museum, with yellow walls and a heavily beamed ceiling, showing two "Stormtrooper" paintings by Banksy on one wall, below vintage beveled glass windows.

The contemporary, humorous, and sometimes subversive art exhibited by the Moco Museum offers a sly, delightful counterpoint to the elegant early 20th-century style of it’s Villa Alsberg home, like these Banksy stormtroopers.

I visited Moco Amsterdam shortly after it opened and was fortunate to spend time with that original Banksy-Warhol exhibit. I was delighted at every turn, both by the whimsical, colorful, or anarchic art and the beauty of its new housing. Although the small size of some of the rooms and stairways works against the flow of the large crowds, the curators have used the layout well.

A large black-and-white self portrait of Andy Warhol sits against an elegant glass and wainscoting wall at Moco Museum, Amsterdam

The contemporary art at Moco makes for a whimsical counterpoint to the elegant building.

The First Banksy Exhibition in Amsterdam

I’ve been a Warhol groupie for decades, but I was fairly new to Banksy’s work. I’m now a confirmed fan. I love the irony and humor with which he expresses his subversive ideas. I also love the mystery of him. The fact that no one seems to know who he is simply makes the work more intriguing. And after the 2018 stunt he pulled at Sotheby’s, when a shredder he’d built into the frame of one of his paintings kicked in just as the gavel came down on the $1.2 million price, leaving the painting of the girl with a red balloon in shreds, I loved him even more.

This unauthorized exhibit, called “Laugh Now,” is a grouping of works from private collections. It is comprised of more than 50 pieces, including his huge “Beanfield” painting. Some of the original street pieces look like they’ve been physically cut from their original outside walls, still attached to concrete slabs, or appear on traffic cones, metal signs and other surfaces. The parade of monkeys, rats, children, British policemen, soldiers and street fighters send the artist’s anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment message with both power and humor.

"Beanfield" is one of Banksy's largest work, a classical pastoral village scene overlaid with a cartoon mouse about to set the world on fire.

Banksy’s very large canvas, “Beanfield” combines whimsy and anarchy in his unique style.

One of many instances of Banky's "Girl with Balloon," showing a young girl who has just let go of (or lost) a red, heart-shaped balloon.

One of Banksy’s most famous images is his stenciled girl with a red balloon. It was a print of this image that was rigged to self-destruct as soon as the hammer came down on its auction at Sotheby’s.

To see the actual semi-destruction of the print at Sotheby’s, watch this video. For some reason, the shredder only worked on half the print, leaving the piece perhaps even more valuable than it was before.

My favorite work in the group was “Forgive Us Our Trespassing.” This large painting shows a young boy in cap and hoodie, praying on his knees, in front of a large stained-glass window covered with graffiti. Moco has placed it by one of the house’s original stained-glass windows, and the result is stunning.

Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another stained-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Banksy’s “Forgive Us Our Trespassing” showing a young boy in a hoodie praying for forgiveness before a graffitied window. It fits perfectly against the stained-glass window of the Villa Alsberg, home of Moco Museum. Banksy has been a perennial favorite at the museum since it opened in 2016. The current exhibit runs through September, 2019.

That original Banksy Amsterdam exhibit proved so popular that Moco brought it back. It has been extended several times and is now scheduled to remain through September, 2019. It’s quite possible that some Banksy pieces will continue to show up in the museum’s ongoing shows. But despite the strong Moco Banksy connection among locals, the museum has shown a range of contemporary artists. Salvador Dali was a popular recent choice, as was the primary-colored cartoon style of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein, Kusama, et al at Moco

Bold, clean lines over flat, strong colors, regularly spaced dots like an amplified half-tone… these are the hallmarks of much of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. One of the most popular pieces from Moco’s exhibit of his work, the 3-D “The Artist’s Room at Arles” installation, remains in place. A reimagining of van Gogh’s iconic yellow room in the French city, its showing here has been extended indefinitely.

At Moco Museum, Lichtenstein's "The Artist's Bedroom at Arles" is a bold, "cleaned-up" version of the famous van Gogh painting, with strong primary colors, bold lines, and a diagonally striped wall.

You can walk into the 3-D isntallation of Roy Lichtenstein’s reimagined and “cleaned-up” version of van Gogh’s
bedroom at Arles. I wonder if Vincent would recognize it.

Two pieces by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are currently on show through September, 2019: “Pumpkin” and “Night of Stars.” Easily recognizable from their strong lines and polka dots, the pieces have a joy about them that fills the room. An earlier show featured Icy and Sot. Two Iranian street artist brothers, sometimes called “The Banksy of Iran,” their work has been banned in their own country.

A big, bold, orange, polka-dot pumpkin painting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

“Pumpkin,” by Yayoi Kusama, is one of two of the artist’s pieces that have been shown at Moco, Amsterdam.

While visiting Moco, be sure to check out the garden. Filled with a constantly changing, evolving parade of whimsical and unexpected sculptures and installations, it’s always a fun discovery. Drool over a giant red Gummy Bear; puzzle over a big bronze melting Dali pocket watch; or climb aboard Marcel Wanders’ “Tempter,” a giant hobby horse, and have yourself a ride. There is a very nice gift shop in the basement of the house.

While it’s possible, and even likely, that few or none of these specific works and artists will still be showing when you make your own way to Moco, I hope they convince you that whatever is on display is certain to be interesting, thought provoking, probably subversive, whimsical, and something you’re not likely to see in most other museums. And it will be a delightful counterbalance to all those Rembrandt’s and Vermeers and van Goghs filling your other museum hours in Amsterdam.

Moco Amsterdam has already become very popular in its short life. I recommend you buy tickets online before you go. It will definitely ease your entry. Book your Moco Museum tickets online at the Moco website.

If You Go to Moco Museum Amsterdam:

Opening Times:

Sunday – Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm
Friday-Saturday, 9 am – 8 pm
(Open one hour later each day in July and August)

Admission Prices: (2019)

Adults €14
Students and Youth (16-17) €12.50
Youth (10-15) €9.50,
Children under 10 free
€1 Discount for tickets purchased online

Location and Contact:

Moco Museum Amsterdam is on the western edge of the Museumplein, between the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum.
Address: Honthorststraat 20
Telephone: +31 (0) 20-3701997

Getting There:

Trams #2, 3, 5, 12 stop at van Baerlestraat.
Trams 16, 24 stop at Museumplein


Moco Museum is located in a vintage home with many steps and no elevator. Consequently, it is unfortunately NOT wheelchair accessible.

Photography is allowed. Flash is not.