Was there ever a better place invented to spend your time than a traditional cafe? As quoted by the French Revolutionary politician, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, cafes were “the ordinary refuge of the idler and the shelter of the indigent”. The refuge of the idler, I like the sound of that. Idling: a rather underrated activity these days in our hyperconnected, need it now world. And from time to time, we all need a refuge from the madness.
By their very nature, cafes welcome us to come inside, order a steaming cup of joe, and no further action needs to be taken. You are free to stay there for hours. One can write, read the paper, people watch, strike up a conversation with our neighbors- or simply daydream and watch the world go by. Despite the liquid, brown-colored stimulants sold within, a good cafe beckons me to slow the fuck down and simply BE. Time to take time for oneself and think one’s own thoughts. Heresy, I know…
From the Middle East, to Vienna to Little Italy, how many great works of literature, political parties, verses of poetry, torrid love affairs and dastardly plots of intrigue have been hatched out of the great cafes of the world? Countless influential counterculture and artistic movements throughout history were incubated in warm cafes in the capitals of the world, and hopefully they continue to do so today. Caffeine stimulates the mind and inspires the soul.
And cafes are by their nature cheap, and therefore egalitarian. Unlike a snooty cocktail lounge or nightclub, a cup of coffee shouldn’t cost you more than a few bucks, pounds or euros: giving you an excuse to get of your house and catch a breath of fresh air. No one cares how you dress or if you’re cool enough. Nor do I ever feel like a cow on a conveyer belt in a good coffeehouse: rushed in to consume something and then rushed out. Indeed, its an implicit understanding that you’re free to stay as long as you like and nurse that espresso till kingdom come (within reason).
So what makes a great cafe? For me, Cafe Trieste in North Beach, San Francisco is a timeless classic. Warm, family run, independent and welcoming. Purportedly, Trieste was the first cafe to serve espresso on the West Coast, and was an artistic hub for much of the Beat Generation during the 50s and 60s. On Saturdays, the owner, Giovanni Giotta, sang opera with his family for patrons. Though Giovanni has passed on, his descendants still perform traditional music for the public. Where would we be without the Italians, I ask you?
Far from the soulless, mass marketed coffeehouses that plague our suburban hellscapes, cafes like Trieste are perhaps a dying breed. Very few people staring vacantly into their laptops or droning on about asinine topics of conversation on their smartphones here. Like a good pub, it’s an extension of your living room- and if you’re a down and out musician, it might just be your only living room. Or at least, a helluva lot better than the one you have that’s current being used as your housemate’s boyfriend’s crash pad.
Here’s some photos I took of Trieste on a recent foray into the City on a Wednesday night:
It’s an appropriately Old World kind of place. Worn wood and colors of burgundy, tan and chocolate. And of course the cappuccino is as good as it gets.
A massive collage of photos and memorabilia adorns the walls. Speaking of which, those walls were probably white when the place opened, but decades of tobacco smoke created the sepia toned patina we see today. I hope the owners never repaint anything.
A nice mural depicting traditional life in the founder’s home country. I think that’s a photo of him in the bottom right hand corner.
And what cozy, living room type environment with be complete without a jukebox and an old school, pot bellied stove? Does this thing still work? This place is just timeless.
In any case, in your next free moment, get yo ass down to your local independent coffeeshop. Bring a book, a sketchpad, I’ll even permit you the use of your laptop if you really have to. Create something truly great, or simply watch the world go by. Long Live The Cafe!