13 August 2008

Where Have All the Cafés Gone?

I lie in bed at night worrying about the state of the Manhattan Artist. A breed all but extinct in its nascent form as the young ones just can't afford the island in 2008. Gone are the '60s when anyone could live in Chelsea or the West Village on $70/week, including rent. But even more troublesome than gentrification is this city's dearth of cafés! Allow me to explain:

While enjoying my newfound freedom as a freelance writer, I have come to the conclusion that cafés are a way of life, the lifeblood of any town. Consider the impossibility of the Avant Garde movement had not the Left Bank of Paris been populated with cafés! Where would the Lost Generation abroad have gathered? Cafés nurture business as well as artists by providing a venue where for as little as a cup of coffee anyone can stake out a table for hours at a time, socializing, working, usually the two at once… which leads me to be concerned for New York: we simply do not have anywhere near the kind of Café Culture needed to retain creative types.

Cafés release us from the confines of our too-small apartments, provide a sense of community, and cocoon us with a sense of well being from simple, comfortable habits. It’s free office space, at its best an extra living room where you and all your friends know you can always meet. Café Culture means a slower pace of life where enjoyment of our single tour of this world comes first. It escapism, elbow room, breathing room, and a guaranteed pick-me-up.

There are a few bright spots in this city still: Choux Factory on 87th and 1st Avenue is a haven with wall sockets, free wifi, and plentiful comfortable seating. Their coffee is cheap and strong, and puff pastries filled with flavored cream fillings hold you over until you meander out to the rest of your day. More than any of this though, I love how the staff lets anyone sit as long as they want, the bathroom is clean, AND there is always a stack of old magazines to flip through when my attention flags from writing. This is definitely the exception to the rule as I find that New York has become too bent on making a profit, meaning that few places will leave you in peace - even if you are lucky enough to find a seat in the first place.

4 comments:

Emily said...

Christina - I totally agree! There is no sense of 'I'll meet you for a coffee and a chat' in New York in the same way there are other places, and I think its a complete shame. I think the culture of coffee can serve multiple purposes, but it makes me sad that in New York, you get in long, agitating lines, just to get your overpriced beverage to go. It's purely for the caffeine here, and not for the enjoyment of sitting, relaxing, and sipping on something warm and comforting...

Also - congrat on the blog!! Can't wait to read about Friday's adventure!!

frankie teardrop said...

Happy to see a ton of entries these days- more time on your hands, then?

New York (and by proxy, many other big cities) seemed to be ahead of the curve, especially in the cafe department, but with the recent addition of the automat on St. Mark's place and your keen observations, I'm starting to wonder if the "grab and go" mentality is finally starting to take hold here. I pray this isn't the case, and it just ebbs and flows like the tide, but I've noticed a steady decline as well. More in Manhattan, less in Brooklyn...

Emily also makes a good point...the necessity of caffiene, especially where we first crossed paths, is probably a strong factor in the cafe's gradual extinction...

I almost hate to admit that my cafe days have long since passed, and were mostly a result of those long college weekends. Bars and clubs are more my cup of tea lately, for better or for worse.

The Girls Who Ate Everything said...

Thanks Emily and Frank for commenting! It's lovely to see people dropping in on the blog :) To continue the conversation:

Where do you guys go then for quiet relaxation with friends? Is it always in your apartment? Have you found an alternative to the void of café culture?

frankie teardrop said...

Generally, I like to throw a good dinner party here and there- a little well-chosen wine, vinyl on the turntable, and a cat skulking about. Otherwise, I can't say I've spent much quiet time with friends, as we're often in crowded NYC venues, earplugs in our ears...

There's always a walk in the park, too.