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Cafés w/Friendly Strangers

t
TommyJay Nov 3, 2013 07:04 AM

I'm a little tired of cafés filled with faces buried in laptops. Is there a place where folks routinely strike up conversations with the stranger sitting next to them? It would be nice to chat politics, current affairs, culture, medical science while sipping on a delicious tea and eating an equally delicious pastry.

A place that attracts more of an intellectual crowd rather than an I'm-studying-for-the-GRE-crowd. Maybe you can relay a stranger-to-friends story that started at a cafe?

  1. nsenada Nov 4, 2013 07:38 PM

    If you're willing to give up on "sitting" and "pastry" the Clover food truck in Dewey Square probably fits the bill. Lots of super earthy crunchy discussions all around.

    1. l
      LeoLioness Nov 4, 2013 03:53 PM

      I find bars far more conducive to this sort of thing than cafes, but really, it's not rude to not want to hear some random person espouse his/her political beliefs.

      2 Replies
      1. re: LeoLioness
        Allstonian Nov 4, 2013 04:00 PM

        As a reminder why I find this concept unappealing, I got a healthy helping of friendly stranger chatting about politics, current affairs, and medical science (or, rather, holding forth for 10+ minutes solid) on the 66 bus just this evening. The opinions expressed seemed to have been lifted from comments on bostonherald.com, but hey, he certainly did cover most of the desired topics.

        1. re: Allstonian
          hotoynoodle Nov 4, 2013 06:38 PM

          desired by whom? ;-}

      2. Kat Nov 4, 2013 08:40 AM

        We're New Englanders, we're reserved, not randomly friendly to strangers! Seriously, though, I do sometimes see retired age people (mostly guys, for some reason)chatting over coffee in a breakfast only or diner type place, but never have I been in a cafe and seen younger people randomly starting conversations about politics or art. Never. Either you are there with friends or alone with your laptop or phone. If someone approached me I, like the other posters, probably would think that was a little odd just because people don't generally do that.

        1. nsenada Nov 3, 2013 07:56 PM

          I had probably the best espresso in recent memory at George Howell in Newton today, and the clientele did seem rather friendly. However, "Friendly Stranger" has very different connotations for some, and a self respecting coffee house should not condone enjoying them on premises.

          1. g
            gimlis1mum Nov 3, 2013 05:51 PM

            I find that kind of atmosphere more often in diners than in cafes, and not in all diners. It's more of a group conversation going on between the servers and regulars but they don't seem to mind if others chime in too. I think it's fun from a people-watching perspective, entertainment with my breakfast.

            Busy Bee Restaurant on Beacon Street in Brookline is one such place that comes to mind, though it's been years now since I was there. Carol's Cafe on Main Street in Everett and Donut Villa on the Malden/Medford line, too. Not really delicious pasty in those places but the donut are pretty darn good at Donut Villa :-)

            1 Reply
            1. re: gimlis1mum
              Pia Nov 3, 2013 06:10 PM

              That's what I was thinking, too -- go to a neighborhood place with lots of regulars, and sit at the counter. Deluxe Town Diner and Uncommon Grounds here in Watertown are like that, and Strip T's at slow times. Linda's Donuts in Belmont too, although the crowd is mainly retired folks.

            2. m
              mvi Nov 3, 2013 04:19 PM

              There's a communal table at Tatte in Kendall Square which may work for you. Their pastries are amazing. Voltage is across the street, but they feature small tables, and most people are working or having a meeting. Why not look on Meetup to see if there are like minded people? I found a group that meets for coffee once a week to discuss a topic I enjoy via that route.

              1. Bob Dobalina Nov 3, 2013 03:07 PM

                Diesel seems to have a livelier conversational attitude. Or try the tables outside the au Bon pain in Harvard sq. What about Cafe Pamplona?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bob Dobalina
                  p
                  pocketviking Nov 3, 2013 05:01 PM

                  Cafe Pamplona, definitely!

                2. j
                  jmarya Nov 3, 2013 01:06 PM

                  I find better luck starting conversation with strangers at bars than at coffee shops. I can't recall ever starting a friendship at a cafe in any of the cities I've lived in, despite spending quite a few hours working in coffee shops.

                  If you want to find a group of people to chat politics, current affairs, culture, medical science with over tea and pastries, maybe start a meet-up group around that purpose?

                  1. t
                    teezeetoo Nov 3, 2013 11:08 AM

                    With due respect to the posters thus far they illustrate Boston coffee house culture pretty accurately. Having lived for years in Seattle which is probably the absolute opposite on the friendly and curious scale, moving to Boston was a cold bath. This is not a friendly town. I've had people directly refuse to move a coat off the only empty chair in a Peet's rather than share a table. I'm thinking a little more open might be places like Trident, Flour in Central Square or where Berkeley music school kids hang out. Do let us know if you find a place because it will be unique.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: teezeetoo
                      t
                      TommyJay Nov 3, 2013 02:26 PM

                      Very helpful, Teezeetoo. I do hope you are wrong about these few posters being an accurate depiction of the Boston coffee house scene. I'll continue the search for a place filled with good food and friendly people!

                      1. re: TommyJay
                        d
                        dulce de leche Nov 4, 2013 08:21 AM

                        1369 in Central and Inman Squares in Cambridge.

                        1. re: TommyJay
                          t
                          teezeetoo Nov 4, 2013 09:32 AM

                          it's interesting reading the "shudders" that pass through the posters at the thought of a conversation with a stranger in a coffee house. When I was a wee slip of a girl coffee houses in NYC (like Figaro's for example) were exactly the places where strangers met, talked, played chess, and flirted. When I moved to Seattle (late sixties, early seventies) the coffee house scene there was just as mellow and as open to conversation. I don't consider the current model of "coffee house is my workplace don't mess with my privacy or my computer" in the least representative of anything except Boston sullenness and suspicion and a culture of technological isolation. I can't even comprehend the business model: how do you make money renting a table for 4 to a single person with a cup of coffee and a computer for hours at a time? In any case, I am afraid that the posters here are entirely representative of Boston. It's got other lovable qualities: openness to strangers isn't one of them.

                          1. re: teezeetoo
                            t
                            total13 Nov 4, 2013 10:09 AM

                            The comments about creepiness seem a bit over the top (tho I medical science seems like an odd topic). I always say Boston is friendlier than we get credit for but this thread sure isn't supporting that. I too think that the more casual greasy spoon would probably work better for striking up a conversation. Even if people aren't buried in their laptops, most cafes in town don't have that comfy living room feel or a bar area that would lend itself to chatting. I also think 1369 is probably the best option.

                            1. re: total13
                              C. Hamster Nov 4, 2013 10:33 AM

                              I didnt mean it to be over the top.

                              But I do honestly feel a bit creeped about being chatted up by a "friendly" random stranger at a cafe or coffee shop absent a circumstance that would warrant it

                              1. re: total13
                                jgg13 Nov 4, 2013 12:51 PM

                                I think that your average person from around here does not want to be approached by strangers. You can see it in my family - the ones who grew up in other places enjoy being approached and those of us who did not assume that anyone approaching is a weirdo, crazy and/or wants something from you.

                              2. re: teezeetoo
                                t
                                Taralli Nov 4, 2013 10:45 AM

                                Some of you may remember the Cafe Florian on Newbury Street back in the 70's that was a frequent meeting place for our crowd where the regulars got to know each other.

                                1. re: Taralli
                                  Allstonian Nov 4, 2013 11:33 AM

                                  I remember Cafe Florian well - it was one of the first places I took to visiting in my college years, for an inexpensive "grown-up" outing. Cafe Pamplona in Harvard Square as well.

                                  But here's the thing - Taralli mentions that *the regulars got to know each other.* I've certainly struck up conversational acquaintances with people I saw often at places I frequented. But yes, I'm a New Englander, and I'm pretty reserved, and I'm female and have had my share of unsolicited and sometimes VERY creepy encounters with people who believed that they were just being friendly. So overall I'd say pick a cafe and go there regularly and you'll start to get to know people with whom you can enjoy freewheeling conversations. Or go modern and technological and start a Meetup group, as others have suggested. (I have a whole set of friends I first met back in the 1990s because one of them posted on a Usenet newsgroup that he was looking for people to enjoy dim sum and Hong Kong action films with.) But I refuse to apologize for the fact that "a place where folks routinely strike up conversations with the stranger sitting next to them" is a place I myself would stay away from.

                                  1. re: Allstonian
                                    jgg13 Nov 4, 2013 12:53 PM

                                    Right - there are places that I have frequented heavily over the years. There are people there who I don't "know" but I'm happy to either approach or be approached by them. I might have never said two words to them before but I know vaguely who they are and what they're about.

                                    That's completely different than some strange person approaching you for who knows what. My experience has been that the vast majority of the time those people are *not* folks I want to be having a conversation with.

                                    1. re: jgg13
                                      C. Hamster Nov 4, 2013 01:18 PM

                                      +1 on everything you said.

                                      Regulars or people you have seen at a place before are not strangers.

                                      Also, my office window literally looks directly down on Cafe Florian's old spot.

                                    2. re: Allstonian
                                      j
                                      jmarya Nov 4, 2013 06:00 PM

                                      I'm not a native New Englander and I think this is pretty much true of everywhere I've lived (I'm also female.)

                                      I consider myself friendly and I'm happy to make small talk with people I see at the same places over and over again, and maybe it'll turn into a friendship/longer conversation.

                                      But I think it puts me in a bad spot if you (theoretical you) come with the expectation that I engage in a long conversation with you. That makes me the 'rude one' or 'bad guy' if I have to tell you to go away--because maybe I'm not in the mood to talk, maybe I'm on a deadline, maybe you've brought up a topic that's emotional for me and I have no desire to talk about with a stranger, etc. etc. etc.

                                      Maybe the OP would appreciate a group like Drinking Liberally if he happens to be liberal.

                            2. hotoynoodle Nov 3, 2013 10:15 AM

                              what's stopping you from making the first gesture?

                              first, i don't like the din in most coffee places so don't linger to work. second, as a female i don't like to be approached by strangers, because it too often is just a guy hitting on me. sorry.

                              you may have better luck at a hotel?

                              1. h
                                hargau Nov 3, 2013 08:45 AM

                                I would love that list too, so i know where to avoid!

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: hargau
                                  t
                                  TommyJay Nov 3, 2013 09:18 AM

                                  Friendly strangers, delicious tea, and pastries aren't for everyone . . .

                                  1. re: TommyJay
                                    h
                                    hargau Nov 3, 2013 04:50 PM

                                    I just find it annoying and really don't care what "friendly strangers" have to say. Seems also that more often than not the people who start discussing politics with random people trying to enjoy their danish are socially awkward or otherwise odd. If and when i see someone trying to spark up conversations on such subjects with random people who were otherwise enjoying themselves, i try to not make any eye contact or leave. I am sure you will think i sound like the socially awkward one... I have plenty of friends, facebook, family, etc to discuss things with. People who i actually care to hear what they have to say. Sure if i have caught fire or dropped my wallet on the floor, i appreciate your random comment regarding that.

                                    1. re: hargau
                                      C. Hamster Nov 4, 2013 09:04 AM

                                      There is a certain creep factor with a complete stranger trying to start up a conversation on politics or medicine.

                                      1. re: C. Hamster
                                        Bob Dobalina Nov 4, 2013 03:23 PM

                                        Or food...yech!
                                        You should see the looks I get....talking food with complete strangers...

                                  2. re: hargau
                                    C. Hamster Nov 3, 2013 02:11 PM

                                    Me too.

                                    I don't want to discuss politics with strangers at a cafe or a tavern.

                                    1. re: C. Hamster
                                      Allstonian Nov 3, 2013 02:25 PM

                                      Or medical science.

                                      1. re: Allstonian
                                        p
                                        phatchris Nov 4, 2013 11:36 AM

                                        Sports is about all I want to talk to a friendly stranger about at a sports bar while drinking too much beer and eating wings.

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