3 cafés I’m not coming back to

1. Bierhimmel, Berlin

Why: Their laptop ban.

I can understand why a café has a ban on laptop use. First of all, solo visitors who wifi all day long over the same cup of coffee is bad business. Second, solo visitors who facebook all day long is boring customers who don’t contribute to the good atmosphere of the café.

That’s the reason the waitress gave me when she asked my friend to shut down his laptop: It’s simply nicer without laptops.

Again, I can understand the reasoning. But I would add that it’s nicer without mobile phones as well. Or at least I can understand that some people would think that. Personally I would love a café with a ban on too short jeans. Seriously, get a fashion sense. Or a baby carriage ban. Or even better: A baby ban. That would make for a really good atmosphere, according to me, and probably most visitors.

But wait a minute. There is something that destroys a good café atmosphere more than laptops, mobile phones, babys and poor style. Namely: Bans.

Not to mention policing the visitors. Since we didn’t know about the ban, the waitress let us use the computer a little. But after a few minutes she came back and said: “I was serious about the ban. Please shut it down now.”

Nice! NICE! It must be NICE!!!

So we had to go, since our whole purpose with visiting a café was that my friend, who had just come back from Israel, wanted to show me some photos from Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s upcoming photo exhibition Jerusalem, in which he participated. We figured a gay café would be the right spot for this private preview of gay culture, but there you go.

At least, put up a sign on the door, please.

2. The Globe, Prague.

Why: Their ban on less than 4 persons per big table.

As you’ve figured by now, I don’t like bans. Not in cafés. As I said, I can understand that guests are more and less good from a café owner’s point of view, when it comes to both money and atmosphere. But you’re a café owner, so you’ll have to put up with the fact that not everyone spends lots of money, that teenagers sip on their teas for too long, and what else.

When I visited The Globe today, they had put up laminated signs on the two bigger tables opposite the bar. The signs read something like this:

Only 4 or more guests at this table!

I didn’t intend to sit there, but as I walked by these signs into the half-empty café, I was overcome by a strong feeling of bad energy. I made a little round through the smaller tables and then returned to the bookshop part of The Globe to regroup.

Yes, café owner, we understand that you want to reserve these tables for bigger groups, in order to make more money. But these signs is not the way to go.

I wonder if they have had problems with solo visitors sitting at these big tables? Which solo visitor would choose those big tables anyway? Actually, I sat at one of them earlier this week with a friend. (Since both of them were empty.) Not anymore. The Globe has become worse and worse since my first visit in 1997 (!), but this was it.

(So what did I do? I ordered a coffee and sat down at a table in the bookshop. No coffee ever came. Touché, The Globe. さようなら)

3. Lucerna, Prague.

Why: Their surveillance cameras.

If there’s something I dislike more than bans in a café, it is surveillance cameras. Lucerna has 17 of them, “for your safety”.

Lucerna is a classic. My Czech boyfriend showed me the rundown movie café back in 1997. We drank Martinis and red wine with the old ladies there while an old man played the piano. Lucerna was our café.

That’s why Lucerna is special to me, and that’s why I keep coming back. In the first years, it was getting even more rundown than it first was. It started to attract thugs and peddlers from the street, since it’s located at Václavské námestí. Then it was renovated and got a big extra section of tables, with fancy chairs. But the ladies stayed throughout these changes, and so did the piano player.

Now they are all gone. The piano is gone too.

I asked my waiter about the cameras. I said I spotted 5 of them, but he said there were 17 in total, and that the purpose probably was to keep track of the staff, to check that they are not lazy. (He informed me he often works from 8.30 am to midnight.) I told him to tell his boss that I, as a guest, don’t like to be surveilled while I have my coffee. He asked me to explain why, so he could give my reasons to his boss, and I said:

Because this is a café! Today you are surveilled in all places: On the street, in the shops, even on the Internet. Cafés are supposed to be a zone where you can relax knowing no one watches you on a monitor. Surveillance cameras simply don’t belong in a café!

I could also have added that the communist secret police of the 1970s would have been proud, since they surveilled the dissidents in Café Slavia in similar ways.

So, you think I’m just negative? I can admit to being sensitive. Small things usually mean a lot to me, but as much in the positive direction as the negative.

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3 Responses to 3 cafés I’m not coming back to

  1. Josh September 6, 2010 at 22:11 #

    I can relate to that. You go to a café expecting service and what you get are regulations, bans and rules. It’s like you’re purpose is just to make it as easy and bearable as possible for the café owners to make money, not to relax and have a good time.

    But that’s just capitalism I guess. The only interested they have in the people going there is if there are well-behaved, non-thinking customers.

    I don’t even remember when I was in a café the last time–for just this reason. Whenever I want to drink something with a friend we’re just getting some hot chocolate and something to eat from the next bakery and sit down in the grass somewhere 🙂

  2. Karl September 7, 2010 at 00:19 #

    Well, the capitalist part of it is that I go elsewhere and they go bankrupt, ideally.

    I tend to find many cafés too lifestyle, so I usually prefer bakeries. Or the way you like it, takeaway!

  3. erik September 14, 2010 at 11:58 #

    I prefer bakeries too, especially the arab/turkish immigrant ones here. great patisserie and uber-sweet tea.

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