Searching For The Perfect Cafe…

Jean Béraud (1849–1935) ~ Au Café

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.

Our wives have no idea what we do all day…

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!

Where’s your perfect coffeehouse and why?

8 thoughts on “Searching For The Perfect Cafe…

  1. My favorite cafe is still Angelina’s. After almost 30 years there is sometimes someone I know working there. I rarely go to a cafe because I make my cappuccinos at home thanks to a great espresso machine and the skills I learned working at Angelina’s. Ah, cappuccinos in bed with a good book on my tablet. Now that is cozy.

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Yes, I haven’t been to Angelina’s in a while, but they definitely know what they’re doing coffee-wise. Another great, authentic Italian cafe in SF. Never understood why a caffeine stimulant is always so good combined with lying in bed and being lazy, but somehow they work well together!

  2. Love the pic of the Arab men wiling away their hours enjoying tea and their naghila. That image is changing a lot now. When I went back to Beirut in 2010, women in both secular and religiously conservative neighborhoods were enjoying the same.
    There are a couple of cafes in San Miguel, Mexico I like to go. Family run, intimate with their customers, simple decor and the sweetest dog to greet you. The other is more hip. Besides great coffee from Tulum they serve fresh, interesting breakfast quinoa bowls. You can huddle with a friend in a dark corner there or seek the sunshine on the upper terrace.
    The saddest thing is entering a cafe and seeing everyone on a phone or laptop. I’d like to see an anti-device movement to bring back more people-watching, philosophical arguing, book reading, staring out the window cafés. We could call it the old school café!

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Yes, interesting that cafe culture originated in the Ottoman Empire, I believe- although coffee and drinking it for pleasure is from Ethiopia. Nice to hear that the “males only” culture of Beirut is changing to accommodate everyone to enjoy a hookah and tea.

      For sure, it is sad to see people in cafe’s nowadays simply staring blankly into their Macbook instead of interacting with each other. I think many folks work from home, and just want to get out of the house. But a cafe with no wifi and a no devices policy would be fantastic! Don’t know if it would be a money maker in these times though 🙁

  3. The Bazaar Cafe on California Street and 21st Avenue. It has a lovely garden out back for sunshine, and reading. The owner ha local musicians every night of the week except one, who play their own acustic music, and an open mic night to showcase the locals own talent show..Shared tables are also there for chatting , as well as sagging couch and toy plastic dinosaurs to fiddle with.
    Its across the street from Angelina, which ha some of the best deli food and great pastries. You can sit in the sun, people bring their dogs and kids and with real Italian Family who won the place, you never get a bad cup of coffee, or their home made granola . Cyclists also stop in, as its quick, and lots of drinks too. I love the Richmond for these two cool cafes. Now, don’t forget The Blue Danube, and Toy Boat on Clement Street, also unique, and special long time favorites.

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Yes, I know all these places well. Good to hear they’re still running strong for so many decades as independent businesses full of charm, idiosyncrasy and personality.

  4. My favorite is La Promenade on Balboa and 38th. It’s a short walk to the theater or beach, plus they have board games, books, and huge couches to sit and read. Lovely atmosphere 🙂

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Never been to this one, but always liked Simple Pleasures on 34th and Balboa, just a few blocks down. Gotta check it out sometime!

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