Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
On National Coffee Day, look across the Atlantic for some bohemian coffeehouse nostalgia.
On National Coffee Day, let us remember the world when it was hip, man. Before there was a Starbucks on every street.
In a 1959 installment of the British documentary series, Look at Life, "Coffee Bar" explores the various coffee shops seen in London's Soho neighborhood. According to the film, the city's coffee bar craze started in 1952, but by 1959 the boom had ended, with two coffee bars closing for every three new ones. The secret to running a successful coffee bar in neighborhood filled with them? Attracting a niche audience.
In the film, viewers see just how diverse the coffee scene was in late '50s Soho. There was a place for everyone, from 2i's, where a younger crowd could dance to live music, to The French, hidden away inside a newspaper shop—and apparently where astrologists argued at a back table. (We did say "niche audience.")