When Coffee Shops Were Illegal

by

Regardless of taste, I’m eternally grateful for Starbucks. During the era of diner coffee slowing boiling into bitterness in glass Bunn carafes, when from coast to coast in America we drank nasty cheap mud, I moved to New Orleans and got used to the real aromatic delicious brew. Not from Starbucks, which wasn’t there yet, but from the centuries old tradition of small coffee houses, from Cafe du Monde to Coffee on Royal. Then I moved to Atlanta and felt thrown back into time. There were no specialty coffee shops in Atlanta. In fact, and this is for real, coffee shops were prohibited by law within the city limits. It turns out that during the 50’s and 60’s coffee shops became synonymous with beatniks, hippies and race mixing and as such were viewed as a danger to decent society and closed down en masse. When I moved there, “Gentlemen’s Clubs” advertised their “heaven and hell dungeons” on giant billboards, but you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee lest your morals be imperiled. Thank god for Starbucks. With a major metropolitan market and the Olympics on their way, the coffee kings used their quiet diplomacy to convince the city leaders to strike the anti-coffee prohibition from the books. By the time I left there were a half dozen Starbucks and twice that of their competition, and I could walk down the street with my five pound Sunday paper and work through a couple of cups while reading it front to back.

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