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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.