Food & Drink

Anti-capitalism lives on with a cash-optional coffee shop opening in Williamsburg

Anti-capitalism lives on with a cash-optional coffee shop opening in Williamsburg
Just some of the miscellany you’ll find in this coffee shop/art project space. via IG user @stefpix2

It’s no secret that your coffee addiction runs you a hefty annual tab. And with third-wave shops in almost every BK neighborhood these days, you may end up dropping $4-6 on drip because it’s French Press, or pourover, or just plain pretentious. But thankfully, there are still a few caffeine-addicted artists kicking around Brooklyn who actively oppose capitalism, and are making a powerful statement about just what “coffee culture” should really mean by creating a cash-optional café in Williamsburg.

Created by artist Fran Illich and freelance curator Juliana Cope, the AridoAmérica Winter Plan will serve as a café and gathering space where patrons can forgo the monetary cost of their coffee and opt instead to barter goods or services in exchange for a cup. Illich told the Brooklyn Paper that he was seeing a lot of people in New York “looking for a shelter, a safe space to talk, to drink some coffee, eat, cry,” and was inspired to run the alternative coffee shop as a “four month art project” to show people that there are “things more important than money.”

So, starting tomorrow (Dec. 9) through March 30, you can skip your regular morning coffee spot and head over to El Museo De Los Sures gallery (120 S. 1st St.) in Williamsburg, where a cup of coffee is only as valuable as you believe it to be. Sounds a little like most other art, doesn’t it?

A cash-optional coffee shop isn’t a far cry for the museum and gallery, which already stands as an anti-gentrification bulwark in the neighborhood:

For over 40 years, Southside United HDFC (Los Sures) has witnessed dynamic changes in South Williamsburg. As the area undergoes gentrification and demand for housing rises, rent costs have increased significantly- more than doubling in the past few years alone. Although many long-term residents have been displaced, others continue to proudly form part of this thriving neighborhood.


Illich's art blends raw materials with a raw message. Credit: Gabriela Ceja, via
Illich’s art blends raw materials with a raw message. Credit: Gabriela Ceja, via

Illich isn’t new to the game, either. His coffee shop’s name, AridoAmérica, refers to a larger project in co-operative NYC living that includes a housing collective, a B&B, an internationally-used nano-macro-economy, its own web server and an alternative reality game. The shop will serve beans from Aridoamérica’s own fair trade coffee co-op, Diego de La Vega, whose Zapatista coffee is sourced from Mexico’s indigene.

You can stop in anytime Thursdays and Fridays from 4-7pm, and weekends from 10am-2pm. Coffee and company aren’t the only two things you can enjoy while you’re there, either— the Paper reports that you can also sit down for ancient Aztec version of Parcheesi.

An average of 25 cents per cup is all that’s needed to keep this pop-up afloat, but whether it’ll catch on enough to remain in the neighborhood alongside third-wave giants like Oslo and Blue Bottle remains to be seen. Thing is, coffee is one of those basic items you can always get for less if you’re really trying, but for many of us feels tied to a larger idea of civic participation and community. Even though NYC coffee culture has been compromised by the growing number of freelancers who treat coffee shops as their personal office desks, there are still whispers of counterculture at most every indie coffee shop in Brooklyn. Another shop in Williamsburg recently decided to also flip coffee shop business as usual and charge by the hour, not by the item. And spending a few dollars to enjoy the rush of caffeine in the presence, if not the company, of other people, has always felt like money worth spending.

Sam brews two cups of coffee at home every morning and still leaves to get more. Twitter: @ahoysamantha.

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