Cafe culture evolving: Sarah Bogard (left), who loves to work in cafes, supports the laptop-free zone imposed by Café Pista. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Cafe culture clash: lap-top free zones


Cafe culture in Montreal has thrived for decades. From the big chains that have grown in popularity to the local independent neighbourhood haunts, Montrealers, like many people across Canada, love their coffee.

“More like a library vibe”

But the wifi-zones created as a courtesy for patrons, changed many of these favourite places into quiet scenes reminiscent of a library.

CBC Montreal’s Rebecca Ugolini went out to see how some owners have been adapting.

At Cafe Pista, in the trendy Mile End district of the city, owner Maxime Richard created a lap-top free zone at half the tables, from 11 am to 3 pm daily.

He told Ugolini the idea came to him when he entered the cafe and found it too quiet.

“The whole place was packed, but it was the classic ‘one laptop, one table, one laptop, one table.’ The vibe was quieter — more like a library vibe,” Richard said.

He said most patrons appreciate the break in the day, but some have registered their objections on Facebook.

Natalie Van Westrenan, owner of Cantine Brooklyn, stands at the counter in front of the cafe’s ‘Pas De Wi-Fi’ (no wi-fi) sign. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Nearby, at Cantine Brooklyn, Natalie Van Westrenan did not take half-measures.

“Talk to us. How’s your day? How’s life?”

She cut the internet access completely, with a neon sign making it clear.

“When people ask me, ‘What’s the Wi-Fi [password]’ and I jokingly point to the neon, I really do it in a laughing, cute manner, because they can be embarrassed they didn’t see the whopping, huge neon,” said Westrenan.

Cantine Brooklyn is a more intimate establishment and Westrenan wanted to encourage table turnover as well as conversation at her 15 seats.

“It’s a throwback to how I liked life better, before all this technology,” Westrenan told Ugolini. “To eat, you know, think of your mom, ‘Sit down!'”

“It’s like I’m your Italian mamma when you come here. ‘Put it all off. Talk to us. How’s your day? How’s life?'”

(with files from CBC)

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