Anti-cafes are establishments where people can have as much tea, coffee, lemonade and biscuits as they please while paying for the time spent there per minute. The idea was born in Moscow, where, in 2010, a writer Ivan Mitin opened Dom Na Dereve (Tree House), a direct ancestor of all anti-cafes.
Back in the day, Mitin was involved in the Pocket Poetry Project: a group of city activists printed and laminated short poems and planted them across the city for random passers-by to find and put in their pockets. The group struggled to find a space to work: the waiters in cafes were not very approving, a new place had to be found each time, the inconveniences were many. That’s when Mitin decided to rent a little attic space in the centre of Moscow and opened to everybody for any donation they saw fit or could afford.
Dom Na Dereve very soon turned out to be too small to meet the demand for a creative space, so a search for new premises began. The two rooms in an old building on Pokrovka were perfect, but also quite pricey, hence the economic relationship with the guests had to be somehow formalised. The per-minute payment started off as a joke but soon turned out to be a perfectly implementable solution: and hence Ziferblat, the very first anti-cafe, was born.
Ziferblat is described as “freespace”, not a cafe, and for a very good reason. Anti-cafes are places where you can come to get some work done, to play the piano, read books from every anti-cafe’s big library, play board games, take part in organised events or simply hang out with other guests. Anti-cafes turn traditional public-space social rules upside down. It is perfectly acceptable to chat to just about anybody who doesn’t seem too busy, or to play the instruments lying around; you can make your own coffee and wash your own cups. Everybody in an anti-cafe is an acquaintance, some of whom you simply haven’t met yet.
The concept of anti-cafe immediately took Russia by storm and it’s now difficult to find any major city in the country without at least one anti-cafe. Due to the huge demand, Ziferblat became a franchise that spread beyond Russia’s borders: at least one Ziferblat can now be found in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov-na-Donu (Russia); Kharkiv and Kiev (Ukraine), Lyublyana (Slovenia); London, Liverpool and Manchester (England); Ulan Bator (Mongolia). Anyone can join the team, so if you have some money to invest and you’d like to have your own Ziferblat, get in touch with their international team.
Whether you need a place to work, a bohemian social hub, board game buddies or a piano, an anti-cafe is a great place for you to be. Anti-cafes are yet another token of the revival of community in the individualistic, profit-driven world. Anti-cafes are like your favourite Facebook groups which you can visit in person.