It's talked about as being a place where relative strangers socialised and had substantive conversations on politics and philosophy that changed the history of ideas whereas today they are places to be "alone together".
My best guess is that clientele were so filtered by opportunity/access such that they resembled a business cafeteria or a private members club more than a public venue. I guess the closest thing today might be a subject specific meetup. I suppose that if trying to recreate one, you might want to base it around the service of a novel stimulant that can't be found elsewhere that encourages frenzied socialisation. MDMA cafe anyone?
In my eyes the metropoles of the anglosphere are too transactional, too monetized and to much under (economic) pressure to allow for such inefficiency. In London I'd probably feel guilty for staying much longer in a café than my drink lasts (or someone would tell me to leave). If you have places that don't have such policies, they at least signal this with their interieur and their throughput. Most starbucks are certainly not cosy places that I'd like to spend my day in given the choice between a starbucks and a traditional viennese coffee house.
I've been to Vienna a few times, and while I agree that the coffee houses are nice (though a bit posh for my taste), I did not see anybody talk to strangers or discuss philosophy or something. It was mostly just friends or relatives going out for a drink, like anywhere else.
Did I go to the wrong places? Where is this mythical coffee house where ideas are exchanged and challenged?
Online? College campuses?
But seriously, our culture and society are different now in lots of ways, for better and worse. And larger, and more diverse.
The economy is different. Society is different.
But....it’s nothing like the stories of old. Mostly people alone together, as the OP says. Occasionally you talk to a stranger. No wide ranging public political discussions.
These days getting into a political conversation with a stranger is very, very dangerous. You might find yourself doxxed on Twitter by a hate mob before you'd even finished your coffee.
Maybe knowing in 2020 one can experience rabid social media mobs, and the newness and degree of its terror is skewing our idea of how likely this kind of event actually is. But I see this view presented regularly as though every one of us lives in active risk of being a single slip of the tongue away from ruining our lives. And it’s so strange and not in line with the reality I live in.
No, the GP's scenario is not at all implausible. To think otherwise is to be oblivious to the on-edge nature of our times.
Is it? Note that the person here accused is both Jewish and Mexican:
Other examples exist of people being removed from their jobs for the same if you Google for it, though many of those are more ambiguous.
The Baroque Cycle series does a good job of describing the atmosphere of the old coffee houses.
And I wish it would be different. I think I had a nice and interesting political conversation with a stranger once in the past decade. That means it is not impossible, but it is hard. A good cafe certainly can do things to create the right atmosphere for this to happen more often tho.
Even having a political conversation with a friend in a place you can be overheard carries a certain amount of risk.
If you disagree with this concept, go to a west coast US metropolis and and try to have an open private discussion about something taboo (e.g. abortion) where you’re openly against the status quo. Odds are good you’ll hear about it.
For example, I used the term “wife beater” to refer to a tank top, in a private conversation, at a Berkeley bar. Within seconds I had a total stranger come up to me and tell me I shouldn’t use that term.
there was a brief golden age before laptop batteries hit the 10-hour mark when power outlets forced people to collaborate a bit and those conversations "just happened" - it just felt polite to ask people what they were working on
it's harder today, but if you're respectful and warm, they still happen. i had positive experiences in paris (and a french coffee shop in mexico) as well
How does commercial renting compare in London vs Vienna?
I think arguably we're posting on a modern one right now.
There's something significant missing from comment based interactions that exist in IRL interactions.
People who do business hang out with their colleagues in offices. In a certain way, offices are the coffee houses of today.
Ships are too expensive nowadays for a single person to own or manage them. So companies own them and all the specialists who would meet in a coffee house meet in meeting rooms and conference calls.
To bring coffee houses back, you need some information with the need to be exchanged very locally. I doubt that it is possible after the introduction of the internet, at least for trading information.
Maybe we should think of this as the slime mold stage of capitalism, before real permanent multi-cellular entities got going.
Nowadays, there's some subtantial differences. Intellectual authority changed. You can't have a credible intellectual discussion about anything without having heard of a certain set of old guys anymore. Their intellectual heirs sit at universities and tell everyone where the thinking went since those days. This is both good and bad. If you want a serious discussion, you need to have done some homework, and you won't find a bunch of people who understand your interest area in a pub. You might find them on various online forums, a relatively recent thing.
But how much people had read, and how easily they could find new things, were of course vastly different. They were still busy inventing newspapers, and wikipedia was some way off.
> London hit 90% literacy around 1750
Still though, if you look at today, there's plenty of people who can read, but don't. You'll find lots of modern people who don't know anything about what happened in history, what the political themes are, and so on.
In India, in the southern state of Kerala which has achieved a 100% literacy rate, you have this sort of lively discussion in small teashacks in both villages and cities. People group together, read the news, and discuss it together regardless of political affiliation. If certain people start causing issues and fights, they are usually thrown out at the first unwelcome instance, and barred from ever entering the place again. What's different between Kerala and the West today might be the lack of Twitter presence for most, a disdain for political discussion on Facebook (due to police/government monitoring) and the more frequent interactions between the wealthy and the poor (since human labor is still widely used in India). And unlike other states with lower literacy rates, people from Kerala tend to be exposed to a lot of news, hence they are politically more active.
It was the same in XX or in XIX century, philosophy goes back thousands of years and it makes sense to know what before you said. Maybe back in Socrates days everyone worked from a blank slate, but that time is long gone.
There _used_ to be a popular working class intellectual movement, miners building libraries for themselves and so on. It seems to have ended at the TV age.
aren't those just called techno clubs?
It's probably not authentic, but you can see the Hollywood version of Lloyds Coffee House in "Lloyds of London" (1936), around 25:30.
You're looking for kava.
These days, I think that sort of environment exists in some of the "third places": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place
Never heard that one, do you mind elaborating?
Apparently by 1675 when Lloyds opened, there had been over 3000 coffee houses and they were often used for "deep religious and political discussions among the populace" as the article says.
It's no suprise that later, the very traders who brought coffee to the UK probably got talking about it at the coffee house they all spent time at. The only surprising part is that someone was quick enough to pick up on it and monetize it so successfully.
The monetisation you mention must specifically include making fraudulent insurance claims on murdered humans and all the rest of it that still gets brushed under the carpet. So great were they at making returns on their capital through popular products and services that the applause drowned out the shameful practices. Doesn't sound wholly unfamiliar at this point in time either!
The book itself is well written and short, I consumed it as an audiobook and it came in around 4 hours.
Note that London was a hotbed for a lot of revolutionary people, including Karl Marx (who eventually settled down there).