The featured letter in this past weekend’s Ottawa Citizen is from Patricia Willoughby, who captures well the value of café culture. The same extends to bistros and pubs too, as places that can become a “second home,” especially to those living in downtown apartments. I wrote more than one conference paper and bits of my PhD dissertation in the ornate backroom of the former Mayflower Restaurant & Pub on Elgin Street, at a time when I lived in a small Centretown apartment. It was quiet enough that I could still write, but alive enough that the hum of people chatting here and there or the bartender checking in every now and then kept me grounded in this world, even as my mind wandered in academic abstractions that were mostly marginal to daily life.
Ms. Willoughby rightly mentions Paris as the home or at least a home of this café culture. It’s also a staple of life in just about every continental city. When I meet friends during trips to Budapest, nine times out of ten, it’s at a café. They are basically public living rooms. And I’m reminded of the colourful history and the legends that surround Budapest’s singularly ornate New York Café; stories of how the server brought guests pen and paper alongside their espresso to assist in their writing or how when it opened in 1894, one of the country’s prolific authors grabbed the keys to the place and tossed it into the Danube, so that it could never close for the night.
Good things have come out of cafés.