Amblin' Alameda: The new cafe society

Amblin' Alameda: The new cafe society

Morton Chalfy

I grew up in the East Bronx during a magical time in America. In the mid-1950s I was in my mid-teens and “coffee shop” meant one of 30 or so places in Greenwich Village. These emporia served espresso - hot, bitter, concentrated coffee served in mercifully tiny tassos which, when fully emptied left a layer of residual sludge on the bottom.

One could sit for hours with an open notebook and pen and pretend to write poetry while ogling the young women. Competition for the “looks most like a real poet” prize was fierce, usually won by young men wearing Army surplus jackets and sporting long, wild hair and beards. Little readable poetry came out of these coffee houses but numerous liaisons with nubile young women did ensue, which was the point.

Today the main raison d'etre of the coffee shop and its devotees seems to have completely changed. First, a cafe that does not offer free wi-fi has little chance in the market. The poet's notebook has been replaced by the electronic sort, and “poetry writing” has been replaced by the earnest study of display screens.

In the old coffee houses eyes would surreptitiously scan the room for “possibles.” In the modern version people seem to be legitimately working. Several friends regularly use various cafes as unofficial offices and plan their days around a couple of hours at their favorite spots such as the Blue Dot, Julie's Coffee & Tea Garden, Blue Danube, Starbucks and Peet's to name just a few of the very many in Alameda.

How the mighty have fallen and the romantic have been vanquished. The coffee houses of Greenwich Village - smoky, Italian (with possible Mafia connections), redolent with hormonal excretions and the young bodies in their control, selling romantic notions with their bitter brew are, alas, no more.

Today's cafes, which serve lattes in a no-smoking environment, show off the baristas' tattoos and are apparently based on a “sit and work as long as you like” business plan have unaccountably taken over the field.

I miss the old days. Or perhaps I just miss my youth.