Midnight at the cafe
11 February 2020

The night belongs to the poets and the madmen

It is midnight at the cafe.

Wisps of cigarette smoke dance in a cloud above the tables, to the hum of background chatter in a language I do not understand. Jet lag may have initially brought me to this little Kyoto cafe, but now I return ostensibly to write. The real reason I'm here, though, is to observe. Who are these people that can frequent a place like this in the middle of the night, on a Wednesday?

Most appear to be locals, and regulars at that. A few bleary eyed students packing in the hours of studying; those are the easiest to spot. The smoke comes mainly from a group of older men playing cards and laughing the night away. Presumably they are retired and can luxuriate in a lie-in tomorrow? The rest are a miscellaneous collection of individuals. A few have laptops, some are reading or sketching, and one or two really did just come here for a midnight coffee.

Hopper's Nighthawks at the Diner

I'm fascinated by late-night cafes. Under the guise of serving warm beverages, at this hour they become a refuge for people like me to convene and write and create, far from the temptations of sofas and slobbery.

I don't think anywhere will ever live up to the Kyoto midnight cafe for me, because it has now been tainted with the brushstrokes of nostalgia. But I'm lucky enough to live in a city which has a few midnight cafes of its own. My favourite, the delightful George & Delia's on Cowley Road, closes at midnight, and hosts its own gathering of recurring characters on a given weeknight. I am truly grateful for places like this, as I love nothing more than working on Sarawak in the quiet companionship of others late into the night.

Occasionally, at 3pm my time, I think about that Kyoto cafe and picture the patrons there, sipping their midnight coffees as they work and play, wishing I could join them for the night. *

* If you are lucky enough to be able to join them, the Kyoto cafe is called Harbor Cafe and can be found close to Kinkaku-ji.

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