Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Cafes in the Village are Better Than Cafes on the Upper West Side

It's slightly depressing to be a third year law student with six weeks left of school and to be stuck spending my Thursday night typing away on a school paper past midnight. My spirits have been raised slightly however, by soaking in the atmosphere and people-watching at the West Village cafe I've been sitting in for the last four hours. When I first arrived, I sat down to the right of a group of three German young professionals who may or may not work for the United Nations or for an elementary school with an excessive amount of school-spirit (they kept up a steady stream of conversation in German while interjecting the word "General Assembly" about every 10 minutes). On the other side of me was a kindred spirit engrossed in typing away on her computer and getting work done.

Soon after I sat down I felt transplanted to Tel Aviv (it helped that the cafe is Israeli-owned and everyone that works here is Israeli) when a group of three Israeli guys walked in led by a smooth talking 40-something-year-old with a bit of a paunch and the top three buttons of his shirt open in typical Israeli high fashion. (His two compadres were both younger and skinnier than him but also less talkative). The 3 guys were followed almost immediately by a group of three girls, and Mr. Smoothie wasted no time in introducing himself to them. I gathered from my eavesdropping that the girls were visiting from Austin, TX, that this was their first night on the town in New York, that one of them plays in a klezmer band and that they're all Jewish but none of them speak Hebrew. Well, before I know it the two groups of three have expanded to a happy group of six and the girls from Texas must think that New York is the friendliest place in the country (and just maybe it is tonight, at least in this tiny corner of the city). Sitting next to that group of six was a petite brown eyed girl whose head was dwarfed by her computer screen, but she got in on the chatter for a few minutes and let the G-6 know that her parents are from Jerusalem before she returned to the glow of her computer screen.

By hour three the first informal seating at the cafe was over and everyone went their separate ways. The G-6 were replaced by a lone rastafarian with dreads wrapped up around his head in a bandana, who came in sporting a rather unique all-black outfit with a big sticker on his guitar case of the Israeli flag. An interesting character I'm sure. He plopped himself down on the couch and started plucking away at his guitar entertaining himself but he disappeared a little while ago to burn incense and bounce positive vibes, or maybe just crazy ones, off the walls of his cramped apartment on the Lower East Side.

To my left now, the Germans have been replaced by a fellow law student who I think is a first year, because who else would be studying from their law books in a cafe at 1 in the morning?? The kindred spirit to my right has been replaced by a lively and ever-expanding group of Polish and Danish female models who are waiting out the clock before hitting the club scene. I'm pretty sure that my presence has barely registered on their radar screen, but hey, I'm not complaining.

All this has led me to the oft-repeated conclusion that Village cafes are far superior to the ones in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I live on 99th and Broadway. On the corner of 98th there's a Starbucks. On the corner of 95th there's a Starbucks. On the corner of 93rd there's a Starbucks. I think you get the idea. At this hour, the Starbucks have shuttered their windows for the night and will reopen in time to satisfy their customers' morning coffee additictions. In the meantime, I'm stuck in a cafe in the West Village, writing my paper and soaking in the atmosphere.