When I was a young, combat-booted, black hair-dyed little pup, there was Cafe Express on Dempster. Actually, there were a lot of places–Scenes, Heartland, Steep-n-Brew, No Exit, that-new-place-Kafein (which has now been around for about 13 years, but it’ll always be that-new-place-Kafein to me). When we weren’t at school, punk shows or maybe sneaking around Northwestern campus trying to get drunk, we were at coffee shops. For hours. We’d sit. We’d gossip. We’d have inane conversations about the meaning of life. People would wander in and out. Refills became increasingly laced with cinnamon and cocoa powder as our stomachs churned more and more uncomfortably from the sheer volume of diesel intake. Dinner was, on far more than one occasion, zucchini bread.

I’d go alone with my journal and soak up the solitude and the Sinead O’Connor. More often, I’d go with friends and run into more friends. We didn’t need an activity, we. just. hung. out.

Warm summer nights outside Cafe Express. Nothing like it. Crucial information was shared, flirtations were started, ended and processed there, important plans were hatched–like deciding to spend spring break road-tripping to the Spam Museum, or starting a goth-ska band that only sang about hemophiliac clowns.

Sometimes it was too much bother to actually go in and order stuff (or we’d be there past closing time and get kicked out), so we’d hang out accross the street, just sittin’ on the curb, watching Butch and Dylan and ADP (Aaron Da Punk, natch) go clack-clack-clack with their skateboards. Nicole would come by after she got off work at Blind Faith; sometimes we’d make a run to the 31 Flavors to see if George was working. Not that we ever got free ice cream out of it, but it was always worth the effort.

In college, there was Ocean, the Coffee Exchange, a few other places. Good for studying or a mellow night out. And there are some grand places in San Francisco–Dolores Park Cafe, Cafe Bazaar–but they were, there, even less at the core of my life. And in LA? Forget it. What I had within walking distance was a Starbuck’s, and we all know that that certainly doesn’t count. And even at The Novel or Anastasia’s Asylum, it just didn’t feel the same.

Which is why I’m thrilled to be in Jerusalem now. I have a feeeling that my butt will be in cafe chairs almost as much as it did in my days as a wayward youth. I mean, there are fewer boys with skateboards in my life now, but a mere block away from me there’s Zygmund’s (I have no idea if that’s the correct English spelling), which is right on the corner and, save the little overhang, totally outside. It’s just a small little kitchen behind a bar and a couple of tables.

They have crepes, couscous, lemonade, beer, coffee, etc. all for pretty cheap. It’s the kind of place a cafe is supposed to be. Old, unpretentious, cozy in its quirky little way. I’ve already been there like 3 nights in a row at one stretch, and I am not ashamed.

It was created for warm summer nights, I think. Less for dates, more just for sitting with a book or a couple of people over beer, tea, conversation. I’ve been told that there are only a couple of months in Jerusalem where the weather prohibits going.

There are some other places in my neighborhood, too. Moment is hip and shiny and kinda fun, very chill during the day. I was there today for 3 1/2 hours (with the laptop) and after one of the waitery guys and I chatted for a bit about how writing is both fun and also really hard, he came back with some chocolate for me, for inspiration. Awwwww. (And no, it was not a come-on.)

Atara’s is more of an upscale cafe, tends to attract a lot of married religious women for lunch, and they always (oddly) have gefilte fish on the board as a special.

But my laptop seems to really like spending time there, too. I think I’m turning it into a coffee shop, at least for myself. The waitresses certainly seem more amused by me than anything.

There are plenty of other good places around town. The ones down on Emek Refaim are where I’m most apt to run into people (though I don’t think I’ve yet been to Zygmund’s without the same happening; usually there, though, they’re just walking by). There’s of course Timol Shilshom, which is more towards the city center but as much of an old-skool coffeehouse as you’ll find anywhere. Oh, coffee shops! There are so many! I love you all!

Basically, I’m just a very happy camper about this particular aspect of my life here. Coffee shop culture done well. I think even ADP could appreciate that about Jerusalem.

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