An anti-cafe, also known as a time club, is a type of a cafe that originated in Russia, and can now be found in all corners of the world. Like every big idea, anti-cafes started as a modest and small endeavor. Somewhere in 2010, a young Russian student Ivan Mitin opened up his attic to the public. Naturally, this “public” were his friends and family at first, who just enjoyed a space they could freely hang out in. He placed a small, old suitcase in one corner of the room like a busker does when he shares his music with the street goers.
The visitors could throw in as much money as they could or wanted, and soon his friends started to invite others. In no time, it became quite a crowded place, with around 50 people frequenting it every day. That was when Mitin realized this could really become a thing, not only for the ones closest to him but for the general public as well. Thus, he opened a place, just next door from that same attic. He named the place Clockface Cafe, and thus, the idea of an anti-cafe was born.
So what is so “anti” about the anti-cafe that made the concept so popular? Well, if you’ve ever hung out in a cafe, and felt an obligation to order a few more drinks to, in a way, earn a bit more time there, you will quickly understand the reason. First of all, the anti-cafe is a place where you can stay for hours, without feeling like all the waiters’ eyes are pointed at you, asking you to leave. This added comfort and a sense of ease are a result of the main difference between a regular cafe and an anti one. These cafes differ for a simple reason: at the anti-cafe, you pay for time, not coffee.
As you enter one of the Clockface Cafes, you’ll get your name written on a board, with the time you arrived next to it. You will then get an antique and rusty clock pulled out from an old cabinet. The clocks are each unique, but have one thing in common: none of them works. The idea behind these broken clocks is that the time should stop for a moment when you sit on one of the vintage chairs in between the Singer sewing machines and below the book-stacked shelves. Students frequent these places to learn, freelancers find it a great place for work, and you will also see many groups of friends just sitting there relaxed, drinking their tea and eating their biscuits. You won’t pay for the biscuit, tea or coffee, nor anything else for that matter. You’ll only pay for the time you spend there. A minute will cost you two rubles which adds up to 120 rubles, or about 4 dollars per hour. To make sure you don’t have to check your time, the owner put a ceiling on the tab. It is 480 rubies, and you won’t be charged more than that, no matter how much time you really spent there.
Clockface Cafe, also known as Ziferblat, was so successful that it branched out in St.Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Ukraine, and Slovenia. But, more surprisingly, it also became a hit in the UK and you can now visit the Russian anti-cafe in London, Manchester, and Liverpool.
The idea of an anti-cafe spread fast over the past few years, as many others wanted to make use of it. And there are quite a few unique cafes, such as the Owl House in Moscow. At this anti-cafe, you won’t only enjoy biscuits and board games, you will also be able to observe their owls and even talk with them. “Our owls are specially adapted to communicate with a human”, is something Owl House bravely states on their website. We’ve yet got to visit the place to see if there is any truth in that statement.
There is also an anti-cafe in India, Germany, US and probably in many places that can’t be found online so easily. The reason behind that is that these cafes don’t tend to focus their efforts on marketing, but solely on the customer experience.
So, if you can find an anti-cafe in your area, give it a try. We believe everyone could use a place where their time stops for a little while.