What Can We Learn From Losing Our Favorite Cafe?


Paris On The Platte announced this week on Facebook: “Au revoir … after 28 years it’s time.. tonight we have wine, tomorrow we have coffee, and then we say goodbye.” One of Denver’s institutions, the coffee shop and bar, announced they were closing forever. The rush of hundreds of comments and “shares” on Facebook was just a hint at the number of people who’d had an emotional attachment to the cafe, and who were saddened by losing it. But more than the loss of a specific building that sold lattes and glasses of wine, it seemed the comments were lamenting the loss of a part of our culture.

“Many nights I spent there as a confused, awkward teenager, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and reading countless books, before facebook before the Internet, before the world we live in now. I have surely been inspired in my own work today,” wrote one Denverite.

I remember my own late evenings spent there, deep in conversation, or nose deep in a book, feeling it was one place in the big city I could belong, just as I was. I was thankful that just two days before the Facebook announcement we’d stopped in for a casual dessert and glass of wine, one last evening to unknowingly savor the place before it closed forever. And scrolling through the Facebook comments, I wondered, is our sadness for losing Paris On The Platte really more of a nostalgia for a different place in time? One before the rise of “working from home,” “freelancing,” and the culture of the portable home office?

Not that long ago, we went to coffee shops to talk to our friends, to open a book or a newspaper, or just to watch the daily stream of characters roll in and out. For many of us, it was the first place we hung out outside of our own homes as teenagers. It was where we discussed the ideas our young minds were grappling with, where we scribbled our youthful poetry or devoured the books that would form our lifelong philosophies—or just the one we were into at the moment. The coffee shop has traditionally been a place where new ideas fomented, political and philosophical discussions flourished, and creativity bloomed.

Today, the closest new coffee shop to my apartment looks more like a modern co-working office space than the type of place most of us used to hang out when we envisioned ourselves as the next Frida Kahlo, Arthur Rimbaud or Che Guevara. Bright and clean with industrial-looking furniture, it serves impeccable coffee and is always packed with people staring into laptops. Not a single soul reclining with a cigarette and an espresso, staring off into space. And I think it’s actually that moment of staring off into a space—or a book, or a person’s eyes—that we miss, when we talk about losing Paris On The Patte.

Staring into a laptop doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not being creative, though. It might not look as romantic as caressing yellowed paperback pages, but these days we make art and literature—even music—with our computers, and share ideas with people all over the world online. We might all mourn the loss of the feeling we had when we sidled into one of the booths at Paris On The Platte, but if we weren’t regularly in there ordering coffee and sandwiches, and tipping the baristas, we might just have been part of why the business isn’t open anymore. (I don’t know the cafe’s reasons for closing, but I can only imagine the skyrocketing rent prices in that neighborhood.)

A friend and local business owner responded to rants on Facebook: “Paris on the Platte was a pattern in which influenced the design of my own vision. Books, coffee, food, words, art, people, freaks.. Do not lament it’s demise, celebrate it’s influence by creating something inspired. Come on Denver the fight is coming to you! Whachu going to do about?”

Coffee shop culture is evolving, and it reflects our own values: how we spend our time, where we spend our dollars. Maybe we’re growing up. Maybe we’re addicted to our internet machines. Maybe we’re losing touch with our younger, more creative selves. What does the loss of this symbolic cafe say about what we value?

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