In the Habermasian definition of the public sphere, he refers to a place where individuals who couldn’t meet in other situations come together at a site, like a club or a tavern, or coffeehouse, that is outside of the private realm of people’s home and outside of influence of the state (Habermas 1991, 29). Bryans Simon borrows the concept from Ray Oldenburg when referring to public places like the coffee shop as a third space, as a places where people gather other than work or home (Simon 2009, 82). The third space has a social component to it because they are conversational zones, “places to talk freely and openly, sound off and entertain, experiment with ideas and arguments.” (Simon 2009, 102).
The social aspect of coffee shops as third spaces might take off in the culture around coffee drinking itself. Examples of the social nature of coffee drinking are found in images from the New York World Fair (1939-40). They show social scenes from a coffee contest
in an unknown coffee shop,
firemen socializing around coffee drinking
, and visitors at the Fairgrounds socializing over a cup of coffee
. Since coffee provided an alternative to beer as a ‘social beverage’ after English manners were introduced in New York City after the surrender to the British in 1674 (Ukers 1922 115), it has developed into a beverage related to social practices, and as a practice that invites for conversation and for finding and nurturing social relationships.
In the “Tips on Tables, Being a Guide to Dining and Wining in New York” guide (1934), George Ross describes The Café Loyale as “a satisfactory place to take that Westchester cousin or business relation” (p. 283) and thus as a place to not only meet people in a social setting but also to bring a social meeting.
It might be however that the distinct kinds of social spaces in coffee shops depend on the character of the surrounding environment. For example, coffee Shops in or around Greenwich Village, like The Latin Quarter (1899-1963)
, Café Cock&Bull (1950s)
, Café Royal (1940s)
, and Caffe Cino (1950s and 1960s)
, a neighborhood of a culturally vibrant history as home for subcultures, artist- and gay communities, are described and portrayed as having had a more lively atmosphere than for example Café de la Bourse
in Manhattan’s financial district. As described by George Ross, The Café de la Bourse was ”a quietly decorated restaurant which found favor with bankers, brokers, and female executives…” (Ross 1934, 269). The social component of a coffee house’s public sphere also depends on nits surrounding environment.
Bryant Simon: “Everything but the coffee: learning about America from Starbucks”, (Berkeley: University of California Press), 2009
William H. Ukers: “History of Coffee in Old New York”, in All About Coffee, (New York: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal), 1922