My favorite cafés

It’s not news. I work in cafés. The first order of business when we move to a new city is to begin the search for a café that fits. Here is a pictorial look at some of my favorites in the world.

McP's Irish Pub, Coronado, California

We lived ten years in Coronado, California, the town that dominates the head of the peninsula forming San Diego Bay. McP’s, owned by a retired Navy Seal, and a popular hangout for military special forces of all kinds, was mostly a bar, which has now morphed into mostly a restaurant. I went there pretty much daily, and some of the Hatch trilogy was written there.

Bar section of the Café Riche, Pretoria, South Africa

Pretoria, South Africa, was the most difficult place of any city to find a café that fit, or actually, to find a café at all. It was not safe to walk around in Pretoria, day or night, so a car was required to get anywhere. The Café Riche, an historic old place virtually in the center of downtown Pretoria, was as good as it gets there. Pretoria is the only city I’ve lived in where working in a café was rare, and the only time I have written primarily in an office at home.

Gremium Café, Bratislava, Slovakia

We lived in Bratislava for about seven years. I was teaching philosophy at a university there much of that time, and because of the mental demands teaching requires, did very little writing, and none with an intent to publish. This is the café were I met students for the required office hours; my “office” at the university was a sterile cubicle, and I thought this café more interesting and conducive to inquiry. I never took a photo of the place and found this one on the web. The place has been extensively remodeled and updated since my days there.

Café Aedes, Berlin

We lived in Berlin for four years, and my most recent published novel, The Common Bond, was finished in this café, (above) one of my favorite places in the world. In the apron is the owner, Giuseppe, a transplanted Sicilian, and on the right is Ferdinand, also a regular at Café Aedes, who was working on his PhD dissertation in International Law. (A blowup of this photo hangs on the wall beside the bar in this café.)

Before finding the better fit at Café Aedes in Berlin, I frequented this one (below), which is in the same Charlottenburg neighborhood, about five blocks between them. I stopped going to this café because the owner, an Iranian, in the white shirt, center, with his wife, began making me uncomfortable after Bush’s war adventure in Iraq began.

Café Bleibtreau, Berlin

I am often, or used to be, in Vienna, coming down from Berlin occasionally, and making frequent trips across the river from Bratislava when we lived there. There are at least a dozen truly fantastic old world cafés in Vienna, but this one is my favorite, and also one of the oldest continually operating coffee houses in Vienna.

Café Sperl, Vienna

Il Caffè San Marco, Trieste, my usual table

Another San Marco writer

Two photos (above) from another of my favorite cafés in the world: Il Caffè San Marco, Trieste, Italy. Three days in a row, this young woman sat across from me, both of us writing with a pen in a notebook, like bookends, and then I never saw her again.

The George Pub, Hampstead, London

I am often in London, or used to be, anyway. When there, I stay in Hampstead, and this is where I work — and drink. It is on High Street.

Interior of the Café Bonaparte, Georgetown, Washington, DC

We lived in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC, for two years just prior to coming to Buenos Aires. I worked here everyday. Right before we left, The Common Bond was published, and the first publication party / reading / book signing was held here as an invitation only private party. Whenever I’m in DC, this is where I go.

Mama Racha, Palermo, Buenos Aires

It took about six months in Buenos Aires before I wandered into this place, and it soon became my Buenos Aires office. I almost always sit at that empty table on the bottom left. I have written a longer post about this place elsewhere on this blog.
Finally …

A small section of the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

We’ve never lived in Singapore, but in the early 90s, spent a couple of months there, using Singapore as a base for traveling around Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Bali, and Malaysia. When I took time to write a little, I came here.  Another view:

In the Raffles, Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling

Hope you enjoyed this little photo essay on my favorite world cafés. Does anyone else here do most of their writing outside their home? The photos have been edited down for faster loading, but most of them can be blown up by clicking on the picture.


7 replies »

  1. Wonderful! My favorite is the San Marco picture, for many reasons. The color in that is wonderful, your serious expression sobering, and the way the photo opens up above you without diminishing you is the work of imagination. Plus there’s a naked woman.

  2. Yes, always a joy to look at your photo’s. I did go and do some writing in a cemetery once but gave up after people assumed I was there to mourn and kept sitting down for a chat.

  3. Not a good line would be, What’s that smell?

    Once I — well, actually my wife — had the idea of putting together a photo/essay book on the world’s best literary cafés, choosing one in each major world city. Maybe later.

  4. agree with the above comments – your photos are always a joy to look at.

    when i lived in melbourne (on and off for two years) i went to cafes a lot, though as Rose says they won’t put up with people staying there for too long. still, life hasn’t been the same again since i came back to hong kong, where 95% of our cafes are either pretentious or plain annoying (too noisy, etc.)

    that Trieste one is surreal.

    • A “café culture” is not especially common, and is essentially a European thing. It exists in Buenos Aires because this is a city that is desperate to be thought of as European, not Latino; much of Europe is mimicked here … although not enough for my tastes, and what there is is pure facade. It is also difficult to find a truly European style café in the USA. The café paradigm in the States is Starbucks– plastic cups, take away, get it and go fast. The closest approximation is the small town coffee shop, where usually old men gather to chew the fat over fat mugs of dishwater coffee.

      Il Caffè San Marco in Trieste is one my favorite cafés in the world, including Vienna and Paris. Trieste is one of the few places we are seriously considering to live in when we stop vagabonding.

      But the café I most miss is Café Aedes in Berlin, but that’s because of friendships there, not so much the place itself, although Giuseppe made a fine caffè corretto.