I've done it. It took me about two months and maybe 100 quid, but I've done it.
I am a regular at a cafe.
Whenever I move to a new city/country, I instinctually always try to make myself a regular at a neighborhood cafe or restaurant. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe I like the comfort of familiar faces. Perhaps it's the joy of a cliched "The Usual, sir?" There's also the chance that I just like the food, though that's usually not the case. I like these places because I like the people in them. I like the smell and the feng shui arrangements. It only takes about 15 seconds and one look around to decide if I like a place. Based off my first impression and, importantly, the reactions of the staff, I can tell if I will like the place or not. More than once I have walked inside, looked around, and walked right out. Sometimes a staff member will even approach me or ask a question of "can I help you?" Still, something was wrong. I say "no thanks, just looking around", and wave a frenzied hand about the air in an attempt to communicate my frivolous investigations. Then I walk out. But sometimes, when the planets align, I feel right. It clicks. That's something special.
Off hand, these are the one's that I remember:
Munich: "Tschuss". In Maxvorstadt, a salad bar place with free wi-fi and a late 20's crowd. Most of my posts from my Munich-period were written at one of the back tables here. Usually, I ordered a "Grosse Mixsalat mit karotten, kicherebsen, und fetawurfel, bitte."
"Soda". Pretty close to Tschuss, this place had a really hot waitress who I used to oogle at. (See my post called "The Look". It's somewhere in my 2007 archives.) I ordered the weissbier and some kind of mushroom and pasta dish. I was really into mushrooms at that time. Weird.
Paris: "Le Rive Gauche". Located right on the Place St. Michel, this charming little cafe was the base of operations for the tour company. For that reason, I was forced into making it "click", but I have a feeling that it would have clicked anyway. The staff here were perfect Parisians: Jean-Luc, Pierre, and I don't remember the other one. Every morning I walked inside and was immediately greeted by Pierre, "Bonjour Matt, ce va?" "Bonjour Pierre, tres bien, tres bien. Ce va?" "Bien. Petit cafe?" "Oui, si vous plat." And just as I was sitting on a tall stool, Pierre/Jean-Luc placed a hot espresso in front of me. A packet of sugar (I drank my espresso with sugar when I was in Paris. It wasn't until my Moroccan vacation that I started drinking my coffee and espresso black), and I started my typical Paris day wonderfully.
"Cafe Blue Sky". I've written about this little joint in Montmartre before, so dig into the archives for a full description. In brief, it was run by a midgetine Madagascar man with the most charming high pitched laugh a wandering American could ask for. I ordered a Croque Madame avec un petit cafe. I mostly wrote my blog posts here. Unfortunately, I heard that the place closed down since I've been there.
[If you want to see the exterior of this cafe, it's in the movie whose name I can't think of right now. Robert de Niro is in it, and he is in Paris. Jean Reno is also in it. Fuck. Anyway, in the opening scene, De Niro comes down a long flight of stairs, outside, and turns right into a cafe on a corner. That's my cafe. Interestingly, and this made me giggle with insider-knowledge delight, the interior shots were not shot at this cafe. The interior is way smaller.]
New York: "Building on Bond". My little piece of Brooklyn heaven, this chic and intelligent-trendy Cobble Hill cafe served pretty good food, and importantly, had free wi-fi. The servers were fantastic, with personality and care. Whether I was talking about the art of book-binding with Paul or just shooting the breeze with Lynn, I was always in good company and felt like a part of the neighborhood.
"Provence en Boire"... or something like that. Another Cobble Hill joint where I would set up shop with my laptop. They had great French food and good cappuccinos. Oddly, I arrived one day to an empty restaurant and signs posted saying it had closed because of "illegal operations". And that was it.
And now, London: "Tiffins Cafe". How to describe my new haunt. Hm, well, I should start by saying that I live directly above the cafe and only have to walk out my front door to be within 10 feet of their entrance. In fact, we often get their mail. The ambiance is, well, it feels very London working class. Lots of construction workers clothed in their bright yellow High Visibility vests and pants (an ensemble that I can't imagine American workers ever agreeing to wear, despite the obvious increased safety attributes) eating their breakfasts, with the occasional businessman type. It sort of walks the line between diner and cafe, leaning more towards diner-- but not an American diner. It feels like an overcrowded cafe that serves a lot of fried things (which I don't eat). Yet, something about it clicks for me. The patrons are an Indian/sub-continent couple (not sure if they are married or what) who are just about the sweetest people around. I walk in nearly every morning, greet the two behind the counter, and inevitably the man will say "the usual sir?" "Yes please!" And before I even sit down, my breakfast is being cooked up. The waiters (who are wonderful) don't even write my order or give me a check anymore. I sit, eat, do some school work, get up, give thanks, and leave the money with some tip on the counter. It's great.
Last week, the lady asked me where I was from because I have a funny accent (that was such a weird feeling for me. I have an accent? Dude. YOU have one!). I said New York, here for grad school, blah blah, will go home to NY in two weeks. She said, "don't worry, as long as you're here, we'll take care of you." My heart melted.
I order the "Chef's Special #5". Two eggs, baked beans (brilliant), two rashers bacon (wider than American bacon, lacks the striation of fat/meat of American bacon, and is a tad saltier), two pieces of "brown" (wholewheat) toast, and a milky "coffee" (an americano, as filter drip coffee is a prized commidity in short supply with Starbucks holding a near monoply).
Since it's "the usual" now, I don't have the heart to tell them to cook the eggs longer (I don't like runny yolk-- I want to eat the yolk, not mop it up), and don't put milk in the coffee-- I hate milky coffee. No. I'll eat my runny eggs and drink my milky coffee in satisfaction and happiness. It's ok.
My ultimate dream: Someday, when I am long gone and hopefully famous in some respect or field, these and other places will have a little blue plaque outside that reads "Matt Reed, famous _____, frequently ate here when he lived in Munich/Paris/New York/London. He loved the people and the ambiance and did some of his best thinking here. He frequently ordered ________. Come on in, relax, and have a good day."