Anyways, there was an article in the August 24th issue that caught my eye and was about (at least in some respect) something I love so very much: coffee. The article in question deals with the places where many of us go to have our coffee in addition to read/meet up/work/write/hang out/talk with people-- the coffee house. The article itself was titled "The New Coffee Bars: Unplug, Drink, Go" and discusses how many new coffee shops and coffee bars opening in NYC are forgoing couches/abundant table space/countless power outlets to prevent people from bringing their laptops and spending lots of time there, while instead favoring counters and high chairs that are closer to a "bar" setup. The article then discusses one example of these newer coffee bars that has been opened in Brooklyn, Café Grumpy, which the article goes on to describe as being
[O]ne of a growing number of coffee bars that have opened recently around the country, particularly in New York. Instead of idling at a chair, customers at these establishments stand or perch on a stool to down a cappuccino or an iced coffee at the counter. By doing away with the comfy seats, roomy tables and working outlets that many customers now seem to believe are included in the price of a macchiato, the new coffee bars challenge the archetypal American cafe.The article, by Oliver Strand, goes on to discuss how more and more coffee "bars" are popping up and that they are closer to those seen in Europe. While there are some cafés in Europe that lend themselves to more leisurely coffee consumption, there are also many more that are places for quick cups of espresso modeled very much after a bar (and you don't see as many people with books and/or laptops at the more expansive cafés either). But in America, by and large, every coffee house is in that "café" model where people can come and stay, often using laptop computers or reading or sitting and talking. I can understand the value of each approach, and thus I can understand why some places are moving from that "café" model to the coffee bar style especially in these tough economic times when real estate is a premium and places don't want to rent the space required in addition to the other overhead to have that "café" environment.
Coffee-bar owners say that while space and rent can be considerations, they’re installing counters because they create a lively environment where it’s easy to have a quick, convivial exchange. “There’s clearly a philosophy behind the coffee bar,” said Christian Geckeler, who describes his ongoing odyssey to taste the country’s best coffee on Manseekingcoffee.com. “It puts the emphasis on the coffee and the barista.”
I think it's interesting that this was a piece that came out of New York and focused on the changes in New York for two reasons. One is that Greenwich Village is probably the breeding ground for this American café/coffee house model (something I'm acutely aware of given my academic interest in Kerouac/the Beat Generation/50s and 60s counterculture) but also that I never really thought that New York was overflowing with those kinds of cafés where people could just... sit and be. In New York, such a premium placed on space as well as the general go-go lifestyle that pervades The City That Never Sleeps. While cities like Austin and San Francisco, cities that have a slightly less hectic and relatively "newer" feel to them, seem logical to have lots of cafés and coffee houses, cities like New York (except for Greenwich Village, which is a bit of an anomaly) and Washington D.C. and Boston don't really lend themselves to those kinds of establishments. Those aren't cities where sitting around and spending time just... sitting is really normal behavior. So I can understand why a city like New York wouldn't universally accept places like your average café-style coffee house and would shift towards this "coffee bar" style. Nevertheless, I thought it was interesting and was worth talking about here.
But something else I wanted to also touch on was what good/what purpose these café styled coffee houses serve and why I think they should persist and have some presence in the grand scheme of things. Some people like to use places such as these if they don't want to pay for internet in their home/apartment/hovel and thus take advantage of the (usually) free internet you can find at your average coffee house. And if that was the case all the time, then I can understand why coffee houses might want to go to a different model to keep people from "setting up camp" and instead promoting turnover and more customers. But, as someone who has internet in his apartment yet still frequents (with an almost ridiculous regularity), I still go to these places and write/browse the internet/read and I know some people wonder why that's the case. I mean, wouldn't I be able to work better if I was in isolation, by myself in some private place? Well that's not the case, at least for me. I find that if I'm in total isolation, if there isn't some kind of ambient or distant activity around me that I'm not able to focus. If there's a vacuum and nothing else besides me, I tend to fill it by getting distracted and doing things other than the things I need to be doing. But if I go to a coffee house, I can put on my headphones and listen to music (which allows me to focus) but I don't feel so isolated and alone because there are things going on around me as well. It makes you feel isolated and that you can do what you need to do, but you don't feel so alone that you're distracted by that solitude. It's hard to explain, and it might not be that way for other people, but that's the way I feel and I know there are other people who feel the same way. While the idea of spending all day in a coffee house working and writing might sound strange (and lazy) to some people, I'm here to say that it has some value beyond the free wifi and thus that model of coffee house should not be immediately dismissed. I understand why certain places might want to go to that "coffee bar" model, especially in a city in New York, and I think they serve a great purpose in that European model. I just also believe that the café style has a place and serves a purpose (at least for people like me) and I would hate to see it disappear completely.