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Café Reading Power Rankings

Vivienne Woodward


Vivienne Woodward lives in Philly and works as the events coordinator for an indie bookstore. She can often be found drinking too much coffee in the sunny spot on her couch and over-identifying with fictional characters. She enjoys collecting hobbies, dancing to radio pop, and rearranging the book stacks on her side tables.

As readers, most of us have accepted the impracticality of reading in bars. Too noisy, too many bystanders who have been “meaning to read that book,” too uncomfortable to balance a book at a backless bar stool.

It’s nicer to sit with a book at a table your own height, even better to sink into an upholstered wingback. These provisions, along with the caffeine necessary to sustain you through even the densest prose, are available most readily at a café.

But sometimes you walk into a café with a dog-eared hardcover and bright-eyed optimism and the vibe does not align. Of course, it’s probably only after you’ve ordered, requested a mug to stay, and paid $9.75 for a latte, that you realize the only available seating is a stool made of reclaimed armor and in place of real lighting there are trick candles. But it’s too late, so you sit down, and instead of getting any reading done, you eavesdrop on the baristas talking about how much they hate people who read.

Not all cafés, dear reader, are created equal. So here, in order from “to be avoided except when it’s the only one open during a snowstorm” to “so cozy you could conquer Infinite Jest,” are the café reading power rankings.

5. The Chain Café

I’m not even talking about Starbucks, but whatever is that other chain local to your city. You know, the one that keeps popping up everywhere even though no one really likes it and their wifi is always down? It’s probably going for a modern aesthetic with cold, hard, plastic chairs and gray walls and furnishings? Maybe some hip industrial lighting? Skip this café, or if it’s the last available option: bring a sweater because it’s always too cold. Like, even in the middle of summer it’s too cold. Pass.

If you can’t avoid it, read Here Comes the Sun and pretend you’re not shivering.

4. The Café That Always Has Tables Open but Never Has Space

You know what I mean? Like, great that they’ve crammed 45 tables into the space for 14 but the Tetris you have to play with your overflowing cup of coffee to get back to your table doesn’t feel worth it. The guy sitting at the table next to you is reading your book over your shoulder and the guy behind you wants to know if you’ve ever read Hunter S. Thompson. Pass.

If you have to be here, read One Hundred Years of Solitude and pretend you have just a minute of your own.

3. The Warehouse Café

The warehouse-esque cafe is not a bad option. There is probably plenty of seating and they probably have more snack options than your typical cranberry scone or banana nut muffin. Their coffee is probably super good because it’s like grown, sung to, and roasted in house. The problem is there’s probably way more going on here than is ideal. Some guy in the corner is hosting an espresso tasting for investors; the number of people getting to-go coffees could give you whiplash. There’s some weird pseudo-techno-emo rap playing in the background. It’s distracting, and the buy 50, get one free punch card isn’t worth it.

If you’re here, read A Visit From the Goon Squad and try to keep up.

2. The Café That Stays Open Late

If you live in New York City, you don’t have to worry about this. If you live anywhere else, even in the very metropolitan city of Philadelphia (!!), the hour at which cafés shutter their many-paned doors is a major problem. Six pm is exactly when I’m ready for my third coffee and don’t feel guilty about sitting down to read. When you finally find that café that stays open past six and at eight pm swaps mugs for multi-colored cans of local beer, you’ve found yourself a winner.

If you’re here, read Tuesday Nights in 1980 and party like it’s 1999 (minus 19 years).

1. The Grandma’s Living Room Café

You know the one I mean. The white whale of cafés in this “day and age.” Cafés “these days” are all clean lines, potted plants, tiles on the floor. But I would exchange the certainty that I won’t walk away with bed bugs for an antique, velveteen couch atop intersecting Persian rugs any day. I like a café best when I can see at least one light fixture crumbling from the wall and when it’s very clear what the last beverage in my mug was. It feels like walking into a hug—probably the kind of hug that leaves you with lipstick on your cheek, baby powder on your collar, and a fiver in your back pocket.

If you’re here, read anything you want, order full fat everything, and never give up the squishy pink velvet chair for any reason, including bathroom breaks.