Coffee, coffee everywhere and not a drop to drink…

Or: The Lancaster Coffee Shop Rant

Or: Yes I Know it’s a First World Problem But it Really Gets on My T*ts

Or: Waaah! Wanna coffee!!! Wanna cake!!! Now!!! Waaah!!!

Or: This is Why I Always End up in Pubs Dear. Honest.

I’ve been brooding about this for a while….

As you may know, I live in the University city of Lancaster, in NW England. There are well in excess of 10,000 students and a thriving arts community. The local tourism website even calls Lancaster ‘The City of Coffee’ and we have the country’s oldest coffee roasters in the city centre.

Atkinsons of Lancaster

So. Think it has a coffee shop culture? Think each evening is like an episode of Friends? WRONG

There are numerous lovely, comfortable, locally owned coffee shops and cafés, including some with national awards.

They close at around 5pm.

Journey Social in Lancaster. Closes sadly early!

Yes, I know the workers/owners deserve an evening off. But I follow these businesses on Instagram and they keep torturing me with images of fantastic looking cakes and coffee. For anyone working office hours they are but a distant dream and might as well be on the moon.

The vegan place I used to go to has gradually shrunk its opening hours from 10pm, via a brief flirtation with 7pm, to 5pm. Though, to tell the truth, I had stopped going anyway as I did not find it welcoming. I initially assumed this was because the young ladies that ran it were suspicious of men but then my wife tried it and found the same.

This leaves me the chains which open until 6:30pm: Starbucks (boycotted for nasty business strategies – I’ve read Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’), Costa (snarky staff), or Caffe Nero – which is my usual default. It is not comfy but the coffee is ok.

All I want is somewhere warm and comfy and quiet I can kill an hour in the early evening between the dual stresses of work and home. And I want to support local businesses, not chains. But no, it feels like the coffee shops of Lancaster only cater for young mums, pensioners and digital workers.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking. Why does this known introvert want to frequent coffee shops where there are likely to be people? Is he some kind of masochist? Well in the words of Terry Pratchett describing his character Granny Weatherwax – ‘there is no point being fiercely independent if there is nobody around to be fiercely independent at‘.

Besides, I kind of like people-watching. It is a bit like visiting a safari park but cheaper.

People tell me that pubs often serve perfectly good coffee and most are open all evening. Not the point! Besides, I suffer from a neurological disorder that affects me in pubs; the words “a coffee please” might be what leaves my brain, but what emerges from my mouth is some variation on “a pint of Wainwright please”.

One of the, er, special coffees at the Tap House, Lancaster.

Also, and importantly – pubs are often seriously deficient in the cake department….though they partially compensate for this by also being deficient in the small children department.

More cake! A daytime visit to The Hall, Lancaster.

Thankfully it is not all bad news. The rapid decline of drinking alcohol, especially among young people, may be opening a niche for evening social spaces that don’t involve it. Recently a couple of the coffee shops have been open later at least Fridays and Saturdays – but, crucially, will there be any cake left at the end of the day? This seems an important thing to find out so you can expect some experimentation soon.

39 Comments

  1. I so relate to this! Way back in the last century, long before Auckland started thinking of itself as a hip, caffeine-fuelled metropolis, we actually had some brilliant independent coffee shops that served coffee — and cake — well I to the night/early morning.

    You could drop in after the pub or a gig, or a gig at the pub, and there would be enough carrot cake or chocolate brownie left to at least share between your mates. And there was ALWAYS plenty of the slightly sludgy apricot pie left for the drunk and desperate.

    I’m no longer a city dweller, so I hadn’t really thought about it. But I blame the Fitbit-types who keep banging on not drinking anything with caffeine after midday or whatever.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Haha! I’d feel the same (though possibly more for the absence of late night cake than late night coffee as, if I drink coffee late then I don’t sleep at night. Though as I type this I do still have the remainder of my last mug on the go…)

    I’m also more of a people watcher than a socializer… used to love to sit in caffs and watch… mostly til people saw me watching them.

    That vegan place probably didn’t like women either. They’re only in it for the beans.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s crazy! Move to Texas and you can get a latte when you want. The only problem is that we have too many Starbucks – the burn the beans and the milk. My gripe is that the person in front of me always wants a half caf/half decaf, almond milk caramel macchiato with just one pump, please. Just order a bloody latte or cappuccino like a normal person!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Those places sound perfect! I actually suspect that the English tendency for alcohol fuelled street violence is one of the reasons the little family places close early. Post-gig food here tends to be kebab shops. In my little town, outside the main city, our two fish and chip shops close at 7pm specifically so that they don’t have to deal with the post pub crowd – leaving that delight to the Chinese takeaway and the kebab shop.
    I never got the whole not drinking caffeine after whenever thing. They are clearly oversensitive. I can take a coffee with me to drink in bed and still sleep like a log!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Whilst groaning at your last pun, my feeling about the vegan place different. The owners also took over the floors above the cafe and run yoga classes up there and I feel the cafe is designed partly as a social place for the yoginis or potential yoginis. I don’t fit their demographic – my legs are too hairy to get lycra pants on.

    Years of night shifts has made me immune to caffeine keeping me awake. I can drink it in bed and still fall asleep!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I was wondering why I hadnt heard of you drinking prickly pear tea lately or having a wonderful dessert. I rather enjoy people watching too. Im not fond of the big box coffee shops either. Too bad there wasnt a place for the working bee where yoga pants wasn’t the preferred dress code. The lycra pants 😂😂😂 oh my ! 💗

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You know, I don’t know when I started drinking coffee? I don’t remember at all. And my niece and nephew are 17 and 21 and have never been interested in hot drinks at all despite being raised by a family of coffee drinkers.
    Pratchett was amazing. Both funny and insightful.

    I am pretty good at baking too but never bother these days!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. LOL! Such a fun read, Darren! Although I feel with you on the lack of coffee and cake being served after 5pm. ‘Safari but cheaper’ and the Granny Weatherwax quote made my day (which I’m spending doing household chores – ugh!). 😄 There are still a lot of cafes serving until 7 or 8pm here in Berlin – you might think of moving. 😉 But I’ve noticed a lot of these places closing far too early too which is so weird – not everyone likes to go to the pub (Kneipe in German by the way) after work. Sounds like I should finally get some funding and open that cafe I’ve always dreamed of! I promise long hours AND cake!! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I did reply to this, but it disappeared into the ethers along with a few other replies elsewhere. (There must be a giant graveyard in the WP storage coffers somewhere, where all such things pile up)!

    Anyway… I did wonder if the trend toward diets eschewing the merits of caffeine was reducing business for coffee shops? And I guess those Fitbit wearing, healthy dieters will be clashing with the drunken brawlers at night. Be careful coming out of the coffee shop Darren! You might get caught up in a brewhaha, and knocked down by drunks, and trodden on by leotard-wearing health nuts. 🤪 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Aaagh. Fat fingers, small iPad. You’ve got me thinking about post-pub behaviour here now. Interestingly the best place I’ve discovered for late night coffee and cake is Cuba Street in Wellington — which is famous (here anyway) for the night life. Bars and cafes seem to co-exist really well, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve experienced that in recent years.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. All of this bother about coffee. It’s just coffee. Any coffee will do! Did I have a brain injury lately? The answer is yes if you think my first three sentences here are true. Living in central Maine it’s possible to get what passes as coffee at restaurants. It’s not. It’s half an hour away to get to Starbucks and that’s not the best of places, either. There is a very nice shop like the one you are pining after but their main focus is tea. TEA!!! Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you Sarah❤️. It has been cold here and not productive but I did have a nice chat on skype with Lisa and Dominique this afternoon.
    Believe me I would love to move from the UK!
    Go for the cafe and cake shop Sarah! When I was in Bavaria many years ago the mid afternoon coffee and cakes was a big thing. But evenings were definitely beer oriented. Or at least mine were…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your latter scenario is quite likely here Colette!
    More and more coffee shops seem to be opening but I have noticed a trend toward offering smoothies etc. Just today Atkinsons opened a new coffee shop actually in the castle. On instagram they posted pictures of the building process – including accidentally knocking through into the underground tunnel that used to transfer prisoners from dungeons to gallows!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well I am very conscious that our beloved Dominique is a tea drinker of course so she would be very happy there!
    Tea drinkers in our kitchen at work make me mad though – holding up the line whilst stirring a tea bag in their mug at glacial speed!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have quite dainty fingers for a man but this ipad mini defeats me too sometimes!
    The town I grew up in had a street full of nightclubs too. We all called it the Gaza Strip because of all the fighting and it was legendary throughout NW England. This is perhaps not a culture to introduce coffee shops into😊. Lancaster itself used to be really bad at weekends but is not so much now so I feel an evening coffee shop in the right place could work.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Yes, I understand the dilemma! Most coffee places are not open late due to starting early. We had a wonderful desert bar (average coffee but great atmosphere and decor) and sadly i went out of business due to lack of support in my rather small town. Pubs have a different atmosphere entirely. Is there some kind of data on young people drinking less or your observation in Lancaster?.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Ours don’t start especially early either, except the chains. Yes, our NHS published a report a year ago that found younger people are drinking much less in the uk. Reasons cited are financial pressures (uni tuition is now by repayable loans and not grants, plus the prices have gone crazy. Also housing costs in the uk are astronomical) but also that social media means that any stupid drunken behaviour can haunt them forever and harm job and relationship prospects.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. When I was tiny I tried mom’s coffee. She (or someone) said it would stunt my growth. For years, I was certain I was short cuz of that sip of nasty black stuff eons back!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. 😄😄. If that were possible then I would be about an inch tall😉.
    Speaking of nasty black stuff. I was told I liked a sip of Guiness when I was tiny. So did the dog. I am assuming we were not sharing the bowl….

    Liked by 1 person

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