The coffeehouse scene, in 1959 London

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A year or so ago, the blog "How to Be a Retronaut" posted a movie short from 1959 about London's coffeehouse scene. The film was part of the "Look at Life" series of short documentaries screened in British theaters between 1959 and 1968.

This amusing eight-minute color film depicts the rise of the coffeehouse fad in the 1950s (traced to the arrival of the first Italian espresso machine in London in 1952), the varieties of coffeehouse, and the challenges faced by coffeehouse owners. Many themes will be familiar to modern day coffeehouse owners and patrons -- customers that hang around all day and buy only a single cup of coffee (if that), the need to offer food to make enough money to keep the place open, the use of coffeehouse walls as gallery space for local artists, the coffeehouse as a place for serendipitous meetings.

Lesson 1: Overheads are high. They reckon that if a character sits for half an hour over one cup of coffee, his share of the rent heat light and service amount to the point where the management is paying him.

The most noticeable differences between then and now: The absence of laptops and the presence of vast, billowy clouds of cigarette smoke.

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In a separate entry, How to Be a Retronaut posted stills of the London coffeehouses featured in the film.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 22, 2011 6:48 PM.

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