As far back as I can remember, coffee shops have been known as the vortex of creative minds. Looking as far back as the 60s, coffee shops were often labeled as beatnik hangouts; places where the eccentric, bongo drumming artists went to commune with like minds. In the cities these dark, smoky, overstuffed couch having dens of ingenuity were portentous and seemingly off limits to those who weren’t hip to the vibe inside. Thankfully, things have changed.
Gone are the smoke-filled rooms painted black and the fifty year old spring bare chairs. We now have franchises catering to us, begging for us to fill their wifi-laden shops at all hours and we are happy to comply. Their bright, newly furnished collaboration areas (aka dining rooms) are rife with art deco lighting and soft, acoustical music – sure to induce the magic flow in us all. But is the scenery all of it?
For me, it’s only part of the package. As a writer who is visual and emotional, I see my plotlines and characters in my head like movies and let them do as they will to get onto my pages. Sitting in a comfortable, well-lit room does help speed that process, but add to that the smell of hot beverages and baked goods, the din of rattling cutlery and the muffled chit chat of the rest of the patrons and my mind is filled to overflowing. I could sit with my eyes closed, open my remaining senses to the room and come up with a hundred new ideas. Secretly eavesdrop on nearby conversations and suddenly I have new dialog running through my head. Inhale the heavenly scent of freshly baked bread and it’s easy to imagine I’m near some medieval bakery on an English country road.
Finding a coffee shop within a bookstore, as Barnes and Nobles ingeniously incorporated as their standard, was brilliant. For a few years I enjoyed the added benefit of having books nearby as a reminder of what I was trying to accomplish. It was also a great place to meet fellow writers who had gone there for the same reason. Of course with the advent of the e-reader, book stores have become a thing of the past and the few I once frequented are no more. It had also become annoying that local teens newly turned on to the joys of hot caffeine had transformed many of these book cafés into their hangouts and they had become loud, gossipy, after school study halls that certainly were not conducive to concentration of any kind.
These days when I’m not writing from the comfort of my own home, I will go to small, local shops and take in what I can. Finding the right one can be difficult as they, too, have become hangouts for those just there for a quick caffeine fix. When it’s sunny, finding a café with an outdoor seating area is highly prized and equally hard to find and so we move on to the library or the lawn of a small park… or back to the crowded desk at home, but true writers long for that coffee den of yore where hipsters and scholars came together to share and listen, absorb and reflect. It’s what we do. It’s what we’re all about.