Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Honey-Colored Cafe for the Obama Crowd

Eve Fairbanks has an interesting field note in the New Republic on the hot new Washington hangout for the Obama left. Busboys and Poets is a café in the black bourgeois section of D.C. It draws anti-war types of all ethnicities. Since the coming of the new Democratic administration it has drawn some of the left edge of those in power. It is probably important that the owner and presiding force is an Iraqi, who comes from outside the often poisonous racial politics of the District.

What struck me about this story, as a student of third places in general and coffee houses in particular, is that Busboys and Poets seems to have achieved what most third places only dream of: to be genuinely integrated. It is notoriously difficult to create a black coffee house. I have been to only one, which serves the Fisk University community. Black third places tend to be either churches or bars, with little overlap. Busboys and Poets is not a pure coffee house, but a café - it not only serves more food than a normal coffee house does, but also alcohol.

Still, Busboys and Poets provides such a model of the best of integrated America that even the Bush State Department brought foreigners there, rather than to the preppy bars in Georgetown favored by the young Bushies. Come on, honey-colored nation. Have a mocha.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever gone into Busboys and Poets when you've been in DC?
Molly and I have been once or twice and it is a really cool place (if a bit overcrowded), you feel very profound when you're in there. They also sell books there which is my favorite part =-).

virginia said...

Ben's Chili Bowl, where President Obama joined DC Mayor Adrian Fenty for a chili half-smoke, is in the same neighborhood as Busboys and Poets. Marvin, just down the street, features a huge mural of the Shepard Fairey "Hope" portrait of President Obama. U Street is a fantastic place to indulge in some liberal optimism :)

Anonymous said...

Bushboys and Poets should be congratulated for focusing on “racial reconciliation.” We need more third places that help build community across racial lines. Unfortunately, I didn’t see evidence in the article that people of varying political views were congregating there. If that is happening, Bushboys and Poets is truly a special third place.

Anonymous said...

I think Mike is absolutely right. Now more than ever, diversity includes more than skin color, it also includes diversity of thought.

To speak of a truly integrated third place, the question should be asked if it would be possible to find Michael Steele and John McCain along with Barack Obama and Howard Dean in the cafe.