Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Café Society of Today

The Wall Street Journal reports how American coffeehouses are different from those of Europe and those of yesteryear. (Via Inn at the End of the World) To quote:

Compared to the passions that roiled London and Vienna, the American coffeehouse was always genteel and, dare I say it, elitist; the only surviving art genre our café society has birthed is coffeehouse folk music—sensitive-guy or –gal tunes that fade almost eagerly into the background. Sure, we love the idea of the coffeehouse because it dovetails with our idea of urbanity in general: That's why a coffeehouse is the first harbinger of a gentrifying area, and the last stand of a neighborhood in decline. As with a hospital or a bookstore, we may not even go there but feel better knowing one is near.

We've also used it to balkanize ourselves. The Viennese coffeehouse is a communal exercise in individuality: As an Austrian friend noted recently, his compatriots don't go to cafés to socialize—everyone goes to watch everyone else. This phenomenon doesn't quite work in America because cafés here tend to draw specific crowds: a hipster café, a mom café, a student café. With the exception of the ubiquitous Starbucks, where slumming and aspiration meet, we use our coffeehouses to separate ourselves into tribes.



Julygirl said...

They are going out of business in my area. Awaiting better times.

papabear said...

It's also difficult to watch people when the coffee house is located in a strip mall.