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Anti-Café (wikipedia.org)
60 points by igammarays 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

There are two great ones in downtown Montreal, apparently owned by some cool Russian people. https://www.anticafe.org/

They are often the place of Russian language and culture events, which is how I heard of them.

I love the concept, but personally having to sign in to track time seems less "streamlined" to me than just buying a drink, so I didn't have a reason to go back, but maybe if the first hour was free in exchange for installing an app, it would be worth it. (I also don't hang out in cafes or coworking spaces much these days).

It seems like it could be made very streamlined. Sit down at a table and press a button on it, then just tap your card when you leave.

Of course in real life you'd have to install an app, make an account, and get spammed with requests to fill in surveys because we've completely lost track of what good user experience looks like.

Fun fact: I created the initial version of this page.

How did you first learn about anticafés?

A friend mentioned one, and then I googled and found multiple articles about them, but none in Wikipedia — except in Czech.

I don't understand why this type of place is not popular outside of Russia. People go there to play board games or video games together. Another popular type of location for such activities is a hookah lounge. Do young people in big European cities have no problems with finding a place to meet friends?

When I was in my 20s in spain, we decided it wasn’t great to always hang out at bars and drink alcohol, and cafés offerings are too limited for prolonged time. We took out a rent of some half-cellar as a social club. We had pingpong, some videogames, and a mix of hobbies and tools around. We just pooled some money for rent, and additionally had some beverage/donations fridge for guests. It worked out fine for some years until some people moved out of town and it was getting too expensive.

I really loved it because there was always someone around, no need to arrange meetings with different people (which gets complicated proportional to age).

From a French perspective, I don't really see what it brings besides novelty. Sitting all day long at a café is hardly problematic. Plus at noon you can just switch from coffee to beer or wine and order proper food without moving places ;)

Though these half café, half co-working places might be more comfortable if they cater specifically to the laptop crowd.

There are many popular Anti-Cafés in Paris. I used them for working many times. Here in Buenos Aires I normally go to Starbucks, where you can stay for hours and hours without a problem… but cafes in Paris are small and crowded (and waiters might not appreciate you staying a couple of hours), and most Starbucks and similar chains are absolutely packed with students (of course with minor exceptions in some areas). Anticafes are a more comfortable option, and a safer one if you want to go to the bathroom or fetch something to eat without having to pick all your things from the table.

I’m not the only one that has this opinion because the number of Anticafes in Paris was very quickly growing and they were normally full at peak times.

I spend a lot of time working in "normal" cafés.

I'm struggling to see the benefit of paying for time and having sustenance (e.g. coffee) be free, instead of paying for sustenance and having the time be free.

I've never once been asked to leave a cafe after I've paid for __, and subsequently spent a few hours there.

One benefit I can think of is that you might be willing to pay to sit somewhere but not actually want to purchase food or drinks. I put on weight very easily and whenever I go to a Cafe or even a quiet McDonalds to use the free wifi, I always end up consuming more calories than I should. I have very little will power and that coupled with feeling the obligation to buy something at least once per hour isn't necessarily a healthy combination of factors for me.

Usually the Wifi is better and not capped to a max time per day. Usually entry-exit to the venue is controlled, so you can leave your computer at the table while going to the toilet. Normally most people there are working… so even though there might be people talking around you there are no kids running or babies screaming. In the Paris anticafes you could also order delivery or bring your own food along to reheat in the microwave… godsend if you are working often from the place and don’t want to subsist on sandwiches or whatever limited options most cafes carry. There is also a networking component: bulletin board for freelancers, weekly social events (talks and board game nights), plus the fact that you’re most likely surrounded by IT and design professionals.

>I've never once been asked to leave a cafe after I've paid for __, and subsequently spent a few hours there.

I guarantee the proprietor will be complaining as soon as you have left.

Hell, half of the time (pre-covid) I/we used to end up in conversations with the propietor during these slower times and we'd catch up on how things were going.

Once you find a place you like, it's not like most people are just anonymous singletons coming in and ordering a coffee and taking up a table for a whole day. You keep the place busy during slow periods, other people see the place has custom, and depending on what's there you'll invite friends or other people over or drop by at other times for meals.

On the weekends or during particular busy times, sure. But usually you need lunch or dinner during those times as well, or you'll invite people for those times.

The successful cafes around here got quite skilled at appealing to the different groups and swinging demands throughout the day. The after-work crowd is different from the workday crowd is different from the tourists and the weekenders is different from the locals, and you need to keep all of them happy to keep the place ticking over and remain profitable. It's not just a substitution between all types of customers...

I guarantee the proprietor will be complaining as soon as you have left.

If the place was busy and you were occupying a table without ordering anything, maybe. But if the place was otherwise fairly empty, they probably don't mind very much. It can even be a benefit to have a few tables occupied so that the place doesn't look completely dead.

It depends on the place. There is a place I go to in Berlin sometimes where if you show up, they'll ask you what you want once, and never again, and they'll leave the cup on your table until you re-order through your own initiative.

This is a very nice system that I'm sure they do to attract laptop people during the day (it's otherwise always at least half empty during that time).

There is a sign on the wall that kindly tells people to put away the laptop after 21:00 which is when they get busy. I think it's a fair deal. You get office space for the price of a coffee and they get someone in an otherwise empty café during the day. (Who often order a bit more than just a coffee anyway).

Why should I care about a hypothetical complaint I will never hear about?

Because if someone complains about you it is because they feel you did them some wrong. You should try to lead your life not making others think you are offending them because society as a whole is better when people are happy and not pissed off.

But its hypothetical, meaning that it may no even exist. If it ceases to be hypothetical I can act on it, otherwise why should I care?

We have a few in France, but I don't thing they are that popular.

> Do young people in big European cities have no problems with finding a place to meet friends?

It's a mystery to me too how people do this. From what I understand it's mostly through studies and/or work.

> It's a mystery to me too how people do this.

Well, increasingly, they just don't – physically.

More people are living alone(1) – which I interpret as a decent indicator for decline of physical connections overall – but since the feeling of being alone is not increasing(2), internet/social media seem to make up for the difference(3, 4).

(1) https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/one-person-households

(2) https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019/12/declining-lonelin...

(3) https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/users-by-social-media-pla...

(4) https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-time-spent-on-the-i...

Caveat: your point about level of loneliness is a study on high-school students. They are a small part of one-person households. I think a study on young adults (20-25, 25-30) would be more relevent.

I would say it is the same in Sweden we have a few of these places here too but most people make friends through studies or work.

To me work seems a very wrong place for this. Mixing personal and work worlds sounds like a terrible idea. And I hate when people I meet ask me anything about my job (although the job is nothing special). As for the university though - quite the opposite, I actually consider the friends you make there the number-one value to attend it for, all the actual education can be gotten from free (incl. some pirate like LibGen and SciHub) sources on the Internet, often more efficiently.

Interesting, I don't think about it this way. I don't mind friends at work, though those are usually less close to me than friends I made in school/university/on the internet.

For university, yes you can get the actual education for free, but a diploma is a very good safety net, at least in France, and usually a requirement for people to consider your application. I also liked the freedom it gave me, I had a few years to "breathe" between high-school and working. University is also very cheap in France, I paid less than 1000€ for a master's degree in computer science/software engineering.

> I don't mind friends at work, though those are usually less close

Neither do I, but exactly the second part. Those are people you would probably feel sympathetic to, care about and enjoy a drink with occasionally but not have sex with (this can ruin everything), invite to your wedding or actually want to visit your home any often. But an Anti-Café is a totally different story: you meet relaxed, intentionally open complete strangers there, having no interest in you other than your actual person and having good time with you, and the magic happens. There I had some happiest moments in my life (without alcohol - almost unimaginable when colleagues meet outside the office) and met the only people who I consider my "soulmates". Needless to say we never mentioned our jobs until years passed and a genuine reason to discuss something job-related emerged.

> but a diploma is a very good safety net, at least in France, and usually a requirement for people to consider your application

Outside IT, right? According to my experience a diploma (unless it's a PhD in machine learning) means little in the IT sector. They mostly want experience, knowledge and some also intelligence of some sort (you know, the Interview puzzles), also some basic EQ perhaps.

Take consideration of the extent of public libraries, parks, actual cafes and co-working spaces that all provide these services in many places in the west. Many of those come with specific spaces for games and socialising and meeting rooms, and presumably often with a higher grade of food/service or are alternatively, free.

If you remove the semi-american notion of being 'stink-eyed' or hurried out of the cafe, then I become more confused about how such a space has sufficient demand to keep surviving.

I admit the thought of being charged by the minute irks me in a particular way...

In Paris and other French cities, you have "game cafés", where you pay per hour (or you buy food which is worth a "1-hour ticket"), and they bring you the games, so you don't have to own them. Good for trying out new games (which they of course sell you, if you want to take home), but neither free food nor free time.

Otherwise, some places have public "ludothèques" for playing board games, like public libraries; but these are non-profit associations, and they usually don't sell anything.

> Do young people in big European cities have no problems with finding a place to meet friends?

Here in Europe there are places like cafes, restaurants, bars, parks, libraries, museums, galleries, shopping centres, town squares, gyms, clubs or just plain outdoor areas that people use to hang out with one another.

After working in a cafe that had to move customers on because it was consistently busy I wondered why places like this don’t exist.

In commercial areas there are a large number of people who want a casual space with a nice ambience to have a meeting. They don’t care how much it costs because either their employer is covering it or a positive outcome of the meeting will make the expense of the table insignificant in the broader picture.

Why would I prefer such a venue over a traditional coffee shop which seems more like a flatrate venue compared to a pay-per-minute place (there's only so much coffee I can drink...)?

So you don't get stink eye from the staff as you spend five hours occupying a table while not ordering anything.

Then it boils down to the pricing.

I suppose I will at least drink something during those five hours anyway, so then the question is what is more expensive: three/four drinks at the coffee shop or 300 minutes at the anti?

I like this idea a lot. Pay per minute for a place to seat. No rush to order. Add no tipping and minimal interaction food ordering[0] or a vending machine. Yeah sounds like the perfect weekend afternoon to me.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgVjXxo-beo

This is more like pay-per-hour coworking with free food, not a coffee shop. It works because it takes away the decision what do you need to order and how long you can stay and work without ordering anything.

I suppose it's also quieter than a coffee shop?

Isn't this more or less a co-working space?

It is somewhere between a co-working place and a café. I stayed for some month at an Anticafé in Paris. It was great. More noisy than a coworking but more alive. It is casual, cozy and chill.

More noisy?

That would be a BIG, BIG, and i mean BIIIIIG downside for me.

Some people treat this as ambient noise that helps in concentration.

> A moderate level of noise enhances creativity compared to both low and high levels of noise. Moderate background noise induces distraction which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.

(Quote via https://rainycafe.com )

One of the things that gets to me while working from home is the lack of ambient noise. Where I live is fairly rural and the silence can be deafening

There is noise and noise. It was more life noise than open space/cubicle noise. I quite liked it.

With good coffee ? :)

Unfortunately, the one in Wiesbaden, Germany closed soon after it opened due to low interest.

A similar place in Bratislava first shifted focus and became a mostly regular café, and then closed down during the first wave of the pandemic.

The first Anti-Café was created by Ivan Mitin. He is known (at least in Russia) for creating projects which look utopian at first glance but have a good business model inside.

His current project is a village in Georgia where you can buy a share in a house, so you can visit it for some amount of days per year, proportional to share size.


So, a timeshare?

I like the idea of a mix between working and cafe, in the sense that I would expect such a place to be nicer to work in than any random coffee shop while still having the same amenities. But I do wonder if this is not more expensive in the end. And just as some people may get anxious because they feel they would have to order something again at a normal coffee shop, I would get really anxious there just by time passing.

In Paris, I've spent quite some time in these cafés pre-Covid and the experience had been good and bad, depending on when.

I used to go there with a friend of mine to work on various things we could do with a computer and a cup of coffee

Sometimes, it's very quiet and you can work there with no problem at all, others time, it's very crowded and you lack the quiet comfort of an actual office. In the most extreme setup, all seats are taken and you can't really find a place.

The price was pretty cheap (3-4€/hour) which made it both cheap if you were drinking one hot beverage and a cookie every hour, but definitely expensive if you were just planning on staying for an hour and get an espresso. Cheaper and less crowded than a Starbucks still. The fact that the snacks were unlimited was also pretty cool.

Over time, I've slowly switched to regular cafés which are sometimes not really busy outside lunch and dinner time and where you can have ample place to sit, work, while enjoying your hot beverages.

I'm sure it's popular amongst student as the overall scenery is slightly more concentration focused than a Starbucks. Also, cheap food.

I've also enjoyed visiting regular cafés (or really coffee shops in the states), mostly to have a beverage and work quietly from a laptop or read, at their off-peak or "anti-hours".

Unless the price per hour is very cheap, I’d rather pay for the coffee. There are a few work cafés around me that really don’t care if you stay 6 hours and only purchase a granola bar.

This is the thing I miss the most after leaving Russia. Coworking is too official and too committed this is basically like a coworking space with very casual atmospere and attendance.

Why not just use WeWork or similar? They often have drinks and an espresso bar (no food usually though) but the massive benefit is the dependability of things needed for work, such as a strong wifi connection, desk space, ergonomic chairs etc.

IMO anti cafés seem to be the worst of both worlds, not necessarily dependable enough to work in while also seeming to be more expensive to work in compared to a regular café where you'd just get a drink or two for several hours.

I think WeWork vs anti-cafés is comparing apples to oranges.

I can't speak for other countries but you definitely can't dip into most (any?) WeWorks or the typical coworking space for a few bucks per hour on the fly.

It looks like the cheapest WeWork on Demand is $29/day, and I have no idea what city that's in. I don't doubt the rate in major US cities is $75-100+/day.

WeWork has day passes like you say, it's 29 per day even in cities like NYC and SF, that's what I used recently in those cities.

Wow, maybe this is a newer thing.

I haven't been to a WeWork in a few years, but I don't ever recall being able to just walk in and get a day pass that cheap in a big city. What I saw was much more expensive, that is when day passes were even offered.

I'd never heard the word "Anti-Café" before, but I used to hang out in one in Dublin [1] that called itself a "Time House".

This exact concept: pay-per-minute space, like a shared space living room (though also with included tea, biscuits, and popcorn).

[1] "The Clockwork Door" in Temple Bar, Dublin. Hasn't been open since Covid. https://www.clockworkdoor.ie/

Definitely sounds better for people like me who kinda feel bad occupying a table in a full cafe after having finished my coffee/meal/drink.

This just... kinda sounds like an Internet cafe. I don’t see the difference, except maybe these “anti” cafes are more expensive

This is neat, and seems fairer than the working-at-a-cafe where you have to consider how often to order snacks and drinks to be a worthwhile contributing customer :)

Are there any websites that lists good anti-cafes by city?

Look up co-working spaces as well, that's probably a better source for working spaces for hire. Some have decent catering, too.

Isn't a key aspect of cafe culture that you buy a coffee and then can stay as long as you like?

I guess its a hotly debated and controversial topic up there with religion and politics :)

But seems like I answered my own question above - here's a pretty cool site to find desks/coworking spaces https://drop-desk.com/near-me with even some location specific writeups (i.e. Sydney Australia https://drop-desk.com/best-coworking-spaces/sydney )

Pay by the minute will never work: it gets people anxious, looking at the time all the time [ :) ].

Also the way it mixes fun and work ain't consistent imo.

I like working in cafes every now and then. I'm quite conscious that there's an expectation to keep buying coffee / cakes. How much is enough?

Also after a while, I don't want another coffee, just want to sit in peace in the environment - but that's not an option really. I could just buy a coffee and sit next to it, but that seems wasteful and bizarre.

it depends on the culture, the particular place, if the place is crowded and other factors: where I live it's perfectly ok to spend 2 hours in a table and consume one single expresso or something - because it's never full, so a win-win relation.

A bloody awesome concept. I enjoyed it so much. And a great (instantly profitable if you do everything right) small business idea by the way.

Workshop Cafe (now closed) in San Francisco was an interesting American version of this kind of cafe.

Oh no, I remember having a great time working from there. It used to be a great place.

are there any in the us? Is it a sustainable business?

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