Among The Bohemians

Are cafes the new garrets?

Instead of sitting behind a typewriter, the clacking of the keys drowning out the whistling draughts, a tea stained cup standing next to a solitary gas ring on the wooden floor, I sit at a small wooden desk containing a single cup that has been refilled with hot water three times by a tolerant barista. The lukewarm liquid now resembles ditchwater and the tea bag clings miserably to the side like a field mouse washed up on a river bank.


Then…and now

Bohemia: a European land that bred roving adventurers  and gypsy wanderers; Bohemian: an artist or littérateur who rejects convention for  creativity and experimentation.

I move restlessly from writing pillar to writing post within my Lower East Side neighborhood. In need of constant stimulation, but also craving peace and quiet, I want to be among the chattering classes but can you keep the chattering down, please? 

Because many true Bohemians chose voluntary poverty but that’s not the NYC way, I like to think of my area as  a modern Haute Bohème, New York City’s Left Bank, an English-speaking Montparnasse but with more bodegas and higher rent. Instead of looking like this:The Bohemians 4…it looks like this, my bohemian society:IMG_1422Mac lids are angled like little easels, the glowing white apple illuminating faces once lit up by the green fairy. These bohemians may not all be working on the great novel, some may be designing websites, others following the stock market between secure employment gigs, or blogging about world beers, or photoshopping last night’s selfless, or tweaking resumes. They congregate in an effort to be both social yet solitary, to hang out but lie low, to see and be semi-seen.

Paris's Dome cafe, mentioned often in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast where artists, models and muses met.

Paris’s Dome cafe, mentioned often in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast where artists, models and muses met.

The Bohemians 3

All who enter here are seeking caffeine and that lightbulb moment

All who enter seek two things: caffeine and that lightbulb moment

Sometimes conversations are struck up when a neighbor pops his earbuds out and leans in conspiratorially: “Would you keep an eye on my stuff while I go to the restroom?” Discreetly the Mac lid is lowered concealing the work being carried out as efficiently as throwing a sheet over a portrait. This sparkling opening gambit can often lead to an exchange of ideas, contact details passed, perhaps a coffee date arranged for another day, an invitation to listen to live music, maybe even an introduction to an important friend.

Us true romantics might even aspire to conjure out of the caffeine something resembling one of those notorious cafe friendships of old, when F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Alasteir Crowley, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford and Gertrude Stein all huddled around two tiny tables, forming a gregarious, smoking, sulking, slurring creative assembly in its prime. If so, we really must loose the Dr Dres and let our ears flap; think about replacing the Stumptown with the absinthe.

When Hemingway met Fitzgerald

When Hemingway met Fitzgerald

Dylan Thomas and Caitlyn

Dylan Thomas and Caitlyn

My husband and I strike this bargain with each other all the time. True love involves commitment…
The Bohemians 1
If bursting with a sense of accomplishment after a particularly productive day, when the words seemed to flow like the piss over the cobbled rue outside, feel free to do this:The Bohemians 2

I’ll be moving from this area soon. To a more respectable, gentrified quarter. (Although this one is already heading that way too.) On Sunday mornings I’ll see less twenty-five year olds doing walks of shame puffing on their first cigarettes of the day and concealing last night’s sequins under an army coat, and more forty-five year olds walking their dogs and slugging on Kambucha, wearing Canada Goose puffa jackets over tight gym clothes.

I hope I’ll be able to leave my 20s behind without a struggle–even though they left me for dust years ago!

I hope I will be able to carry seven years of Lower East Side living with me, and to think of it as Hemingway thought of his Paris: A Moveable Feast.

(Illustrations in this post from Among The Bohemians; Experiments in Living 1900-1939 by Virginia Nicholson)

My debut novel, which follows a group of creative expats through the bars, cafes and fashion houses of Milan, is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here


  1. Wonderful piece, beautifully written. Hope the move goes well.

  2. dont leave behind the bohemian heart x

  3. That pic with the Mac Bohemia NYC style was an eye opener! Wishing you lots of fun among your new grown up neighbours!

    • Is that not done so much in Brussels, Lia, everyone with their computer in a cafe? Maybe the European style bohemian living is still alive and well in Brussels. Let the absinthe flow!

      • Well, Brussels follows the trend… I see more and more computers in cafes but have never seen so many Apples sitting next to each other (and not one in my favourite absinthe bar)!… Plus, over here they’re called hipsters or BoBos (Bourgeois Bohemian)!

      • Yep, they’re called Hipsters here too, but BoBos is a new one. I like it 🙂

  4. What a wonderful piece. I love your words, pictures and drawings. A beautiful mix!

  5. Sigh. A good cafe is a gem to treasure…Does a more expensive flat mean the price of coffee goes up as well?! xxx

  6. oh you bet. I paid almost $5 for a freaking green tea–and it turned out to be jasmine tea–which I hate! WIll have to locate where the paupers hang out and make friends there xo

  7. Well, I too seek out public, yet private, places to write. I find bars suit me. Coffee shops are just too noisy usually, and crowded here on the island. I’ve paid $5 for coffee and frankly I’d rather have a warm beer than a cold coffee. I have a fav place called Helter Skelter, just like the song. It’s logo is a pic of Charles Manson, complete with swastika. Who could resist the allure? The owner said that he named it that to keep out the ‘hipsters and the navy’. I’ll have to mention ‘BoBo’s’. Unfortunately no artists go there. No writers. Tattoo artists…they count, don’t they? I hope that someday I will have an atelier there. So far, it’s just me.
    Hope the new place and the move go smoothly and you love your new neighborhood!

    • Your writing hole sounds kickass, which is only appropriate for a gal like yourself. You’re keeping alive the great Irish tradition of combining your art with your drinking. Nothing on earth calls for losing valuable beer time, not even art. Answer: move the two of them in together, make bedfellows out of them 🙂
      The proximity to intoxicated humans exhibiting zoo-like behavior is great fuel for your writing too! I like your style!

  8. Oh my Jackie, you’ve so creatively expressed the raw truths of 21st century social behaviour…
    and how we humans wander daily through a world of many knowing few, craving to be…
    “both social yet solitary, to hang out but lie low, to see and be semi-seen.”
    What a fabulous and well written piece–I adore your honest + witty writing!!
    Keep soaking it all up, there are great things percolating inside your head~ xo

  9. Oh, thank you, you’re much to kind. If you only knew what percolates inside my head, you’d run for the hills! 🙂

  10. hahaha Well shucks. I’m going to confess, after an eye-fogging couple hours of catching up on bloggers who have “liked” me, I clicked on your as the last of the evening, hoping it would be another Indonesian site for alternative hemorrhoid products. Seeing all the New York stuff and the wall of iMacs I was ready to click my own “like” without quite…shall we say…paying full attention?

    But dernit, your first comment is from yakinamac, who is probably the best writer I’ve found in the blogosphere so far, and if she likes you, then damn, I have to actually really read what you said.

    I’m glad I did, because it’s a great post, and “They congregate in an effort to be both social yet solitary…to see and be semi-seen.” is perfect. Rats, another blog I’ll actually have to keep up on. 😉

    • I’m glad I was last but not least!
      Any friend of Yakinamac’s is a friend of mine. I’ve been missing her missives since she returned to full time employment (you’ll relate having walked out on your shirt and tie job to wander and be curious–good man!)
      Thank you for the high praise.
      (Just deleting Indonesian hemorrhoid post in case you come back for another visit…)

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