The coffee’s free at a new cafe in London, and so is the food. You can even bring your own fruit and make a smoothie using the cafe’s blender. Instead of paying for any amenities, you just pay for being there: 3 pence a minute. Though it sounds like it might eventually add up, there’s a maximum charge of £9 a day. It’s quite a bit cheaper than nearby co-working spaces.
The “anti-cafe” originally launched with a branch in Moscow. Called Ziferblat (Russian for “clock-face”), the founder considers it a social experiment rather than a business, but it’s been so successful that there are already nine Ziferblats, and around 200 copycat ventures in Russia.
Ivan Mitin started Ziferblat with a group of friends who needed a space for an art project; they’d been spending their free time printing classic poems on small cards and tucking them into random spots on Moscow streets to surprise passerby. They were working at various coffee shops and were tired of getting sidelong glances from baristas who wondered when they’d be buying their next drink. So they found a small attic space of their own.
Over time, they started inviting more people. “They could do whatever they pleased–play the piano, write books, converse with friends or make new ones, prepare coffee, even treat everyone to pie,” Mitin wrote. “Payment for all of this was completely voluntary–a suitcase lay near the entrance, and guests were invited to put in as much as they thought fair.”
Even though the rent wasn’t cheap, the space had no trouble financially, and eventually became so popular that Mitin opened the first official Ziferblat in the fall of 2011. The new location was more expensive, and they started to charge. “As a joke, we started advertising that from this day forward, they would have to pay for time, and that every minute would cost a ruble,” Mitin said.
The system worked. Now, Mitin hopes to hopes to keep bringing Ziferblats to more places around the world, each offering a space for creativity and discussion and local food. Here’s a vote to come to San Francisco next.