• 2015.05.20
  • Cafe Culture
Coffee and Conversation have long been the American mix that brings people together and builds Community. Coffee is a metaphor. When people say “let’s meet for coffee sometime” they do not actually mean coffee, they mean “let’s meet and talk and keep it informal”. They may or may not drink coffee. They may drink tea or fruit juice, or they even eat lunch.

During the week, most cafes are filled with computer users seeking the unquiet of a community hang-out. Working in a cafe is the antidote for the solitude of the home, where increasingly Americans are setting up home-offices to avoid the soaring costs of renting a downtown office. And yet for many people, too much solitude is not a good thing; many of us need the energy of people working around us to keep the energy of work flowing. The quiet conversations have helped many to overcome writer’s block, and pushed the creativity of artists.

Once, long ago, the sort of people who now populate cafes during the week worked in offices. They took coffee breaks in staff rooms, or grabbed a quick coffee at their desks. While those situations exist, so many office workers have been replaced by “free-lancers” who work from home. Additionally, in our networked world, there are also those people who work at home by choice, and only go to the office for meetings or special events. And still, most people do not want to be alone all day.

Community is defined by the ways in which people come together. And, as everyone knows, there is nothing like a friendly space and hot coffee or tea to bring happiness to a neighborhood. Throw in a few good snacks, and people stream out of the solitude of home offices and mundane chores to the cafes of the neighborhood. People may say that they come for the coffee, and where they find they find conversation and friendship. They come for the coffee, they stay for the companionship.

While most turn to cafes with laptop in hand, there are those who go to cafes only for conversation. They long to share tables with strangers and neighborhood acquaintances, eager for the chance to discuss the state of the world and the politics that go along with it.


「Artwork above the tables by New Haven artist Leslie Carmin.」
「Artwork above the tables by New Haven artist Leslie Carmin.」
My own neighborhood offers choices. East Rock Cafe is following the tradition established by the first owner, Lulu, who insisted on small, close tables for conversation only. The tiny cafe provides a shared copy of the New York Times, and customers are encouraged to share tables and conversation with whomever happens to be sitting there when they come in. In a neighborhood with a high turnover of residents, new friendships have been forged over morning coffee (or tea) in the small space of the cafe.



Nearby, we have the Coffee Pedaler, where large tables and good wifi make it the ideal workspace. The name is a pun – combining the word pedal as the part of a bicycle that we press on to make it work, and peddler, as one who sells something. Gourmet pour-over coffee and fresh sandwiches tempt people to spend hours here, lost in thought while enjoying the company of others.



Across town, in a neighborhood of larger houses and bigger spaces, Manjares is a cafe that takes the living room idea further. The two-room cafe offers one side with small tables, where many people eat large meals but also work on computers. A second room has couches, and even a coffee bar, mixing all kinds of seating and purpose. People writing serious work sit next to family groups enjoying a quiet meal. Just as in a large home, everyone finds the right corner to enjoy the friendly sense of community.

In New Haven, our cafes depend on the personalities of the owners and staff. They must know how to be friendly, with just enough conversation to make customers feel welcome, without making them feel obligated to engage in long conversation. Often they are great cooks, and they certainly know how to pick the best pastries and brands of coffee to serve. But above all else, they give us our homes away from home, our community “living rooms,” where we stretch out and pass the hours.

These are the weeks of indoor cafes. In less than a month, cafes burst open onto the sidewalks of the town. They will pulsate with smiling people, enjoying the days of spring and summer. For now, the walk to cafe is enough, and the inside tables are a welcome spot of warmth, in all of its meanings.


  • Rubin Cynthia Beth
  • JobIndependent Artist, C B Rubin Studio

Cynthia Beth Rubin is a new media artist based in New Haven, CT USA, with a studio practice extending from New York City to Narragansett, Rhode Island. Working with still imagery, video, and Augmented Reality, Rubin’s current work focuses on revealing the unseen microscopic life in our waters. Rubin writes bringing awareness of this hidden life to the urban setting, where layers of culture intertwine with the visible environment but rarely with the invisible, is one of the imperatives of our time. The challenge is how do we engage the public in a narrative that includes a true artistic dialogue?

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