When you think about it, coffee should really have an official chapter in art history textbooks. Or maybe they design an art history course around the local coffee shop. Better yet, have the art history class meet at the coffeehouse–just like the artists being studied would have likely gathered with their artistic and philosophical contemporaries to wax lyrical about the affairs of the day (and would have made 18th Century European Art a little more bearable.) The Futurist and Dada movements both famously met and staged performance art exhibitions at their respective local coffee haunts, perhaps partly inspired by the much earlier birth of the French Enlightenment folks like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot.
Wikipedia offers this interesting little tidbit from 17th Century French traveler Jean Chardin, who gave a lively description of the Persian coffeehouse scene (Persia also being the birthplace of the drink itself):
People engage in conversation, for it is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics criticize the government in all freedom and without being fearful, since the government does not heed what the people say. Innocent games… resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. In addition, mollas, dervishes, and poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose. The narrations by the mollas and the dervishes are moral lessons, like our sermons, but it is not considered scandalous not to pay attention to them. No one is forced to give up his game or his conversation because of it. A molla will stand up in the middle, or at one end of the qahveh-khaneh, and begin to preach in a loud voice, or a dervish enters all of a sudden, and chastises the assembled on the vanity of the world and its material goods. It often happens that two or three people talk at the same time, one on one side, the other on the opposite, and sometimes one will be a preacher and the other a storyteller.
From Persia, coffeeshops quickly spread to Europe via the Ottoman Empire. The Italians and French decide that the café idea is pretty damn awesome, and then pretend they invented the idea despite protests from the Middle East– “we invented friggin’ drink, what the hell!”…or at least that’s how I imagine it happened.
Not only have artists frequented these shops, but many to this day remain an important way for up-and-coming names to get their work shown and heard. Which isn’t to say that every glistening acrylic is made by a professional and not a 52-year old stay-at-home mom who recently took classes at the adult learning center, but who’s to say there’s not a significance in enabling hobby artists such as these?
Most of the places I frequent also double as galleries, such as the independent Octane in West Atlanta:
I enjoy this place not only for the colorful display of the freshest hipsters, but their excellent preparation of coffee. It really is amazing, and the baristas tend to be more knowledgable than most in my experience. And then of course there’s this:
Not to mention, you can get booze there, which is a trend I’m happy to see we’re finally beginning to pick up from the Europeans. Octane also gets a shout-out for their great use of typography as a decorative element on the far wall when you walk in:
If the Westside pseudo-alternative crowd ain’t your thang, there’s plenty of other places to get your caffeine/art fix: Café Intermezzo, Octane, Aurora, Dancing Goats, JavaVino, Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop, Inman Perk, Drip, Coffee Loft, Java Lords, Java Jive, and Urban Grind are some of the other independent offerings, and of course there’s everyone’s favorite ubiquitous coffee chain lurking at an intersection near you. As a designer, I gotta say Starbucks is pretty awesome at their interior design and branding, especially the in-town locations. I am partial to the always-crowded 8th street and 14th street spots.
But don’t worry, if I see you there I’ll tell everyone we at Octane.