Fans of the television show Friends probably well-remember the gang’s favorite hangout, a coffeehouse called Central Perk. The popular TV show ran from 1994 to 2004, and on several occasions Phoebe Buffay performed her so-called musical talents at the coffeehouse, usually singing about smelly cats and choruses that contained a lot of lalalalala la’s. This scenario was far from fiction, however. Many musical artists, including Coldplay, R.E.M., and Crowded House made some of their first appearances in coffeehouses.
How did this phenomenon come about and are coffeehouses still a viable place for music artists to perform?
A Brief History of Coffeehouses
The first coffeehouses started up in Saudi Arabia around the late 1400s and quickly became a popular place for political gatherings. Eventually, Muslim leaders began to ban both coffee and coffeehouses. Despite this fact, coffeehouses eventually found their way to Vienna, Damascus, and Constantinople. While they remained a place for political gatherings, coffeehouses were also where people went to get the latest news, play games, and even listen to sermons given by the moral teachers of the day.
In the 1700s, England embraced coffeehouses and they began to flourish due to the fact that, unlike taverns, they promoted sobriety. By 1663, there were 83 coffeehouses in London alone. While they became popular places to do business, women were not permitted inside a coffeehouse unless they worked there. In 1675, for various reasons, King Charles II tried to shut down coffeehouses, but coffeehouse owners and entrepreneurs who did business there, were able to get the proclamation overturned.
Coffeehouses and Music
Around the time the battle for coffeehouses was being fought in England, they were being established in early America. In fact, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were known to have gathered at The Merchant’s Coffee House in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1946 that the espresso machine was invented in Italy, and with that invention came the modern age of coffeehouses.
Because these modern-day coffeehouses established themselves as a friendly place to meet with a relaxing atmosphere, they became the perfect gathering place for artists of all kinds, including poets, painters, actors, and musicians. Due to their smaller size, coffeehouses have always been intimate establishments that are especially great for performers with smaller ensembles and quieter instruments. Throughout the last 60 years, coffeehouses have helped form local communities that have been created around music. Many music artists today are finding that locally-owned coffeehouses are still a viable option for marketing and promoting their music.