Most people think that the notion of going to a “coffee house’ or “coffee bar” is a relatively new experience in Newfoundland and Labrador. Most people would argue that ‘the concept’ of a “Coffee house” arrived in the province with the first Tim Horton’s on Kenmount Road in the late 1970’s. Not so!! Coffee houses or as they were then called “Coffee Taverns” were established in St. John’s as early as 1879.
In September 1879, Samuel Collier took out an advertisement in the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram explaining that he had opened a “first class coffee house” that was “in full blast in the East End.” Location being everything in business and wanting to be in a high traffic area, Collier explained in his advertisement that he was located “immediately opposite the mercantile premises of Messrs. L. O’Brien and Company.”
Mr. Collier was not limiting his clientele to a good cup of coffee, he also boasted that his “delicious meals are served with almost lightning rapidity.” The claim by the St. John’s businessman puts him among the first to propose the notion of a ‘fast food’ restaurant.
If that was not enough to lure coffee drinkers and diners off the streets into his premises he had a number of distractions that would amuse his guests. His advertisement read:
“Visitors who are fond of amusements can pleasantly pass the time with Billiards, Chess, or Chequers, while those of a literary turn of mind are furnished with more interesting newspapers, fresh from the press.”
It might have been that Mr. Collier had another motive for opening his “East End Coffee Tavern” and the clue is in the name that he gave his business. Mr. Collier like many of his ‘temperance minded friends’ in the 1880’s were trying to establish “Coffee Taverns” to serve as an alternative to shebeens and other drinking establishments that served alcohol.
The Temperance Movement was at the height of its influence and membership in the 1880s. This was a society that condemned alcohol as the root of the problems of poverty and destitution. They bought up restaurants and music halls, trying to recreate the atmosphere of the coffee houses of the 16th century. Working men were encouraged to visit establishments like the East End Coffee Tavern, to eat nourishing but cheap food, and to drink coffee or tea instead of alcohol.
Hard to believe but some of our ancestors preferred a drink in the local tavern instead of going home. Collier and others reasoned with amusements like Billiards, Chess, or Chequers, a reading room providing daily and weekly newspapers and a good cup of coffee that they could entice a few away from the booze into having a good cup of coffee.
I will have a double, double, please!
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore: MG 1009: Sons of Temperance, St. John‘s Division No. 3: Minutes of the Sons of Temperance for 1865-1867 beginning with the inaugural meeting. Minutes include lists of officers including ages and occupations of members, resolutions, finances, quarterly reports, membership fees, expenditures, etc.
Recommended Song: Murphy Broke the Pledge (Irish Descendants) based on the Johnny Burke Ballad, Murphy Broke the Pledge [1851-1930] of St. John’s, NL (1894). This variant arranged by the Irish Descendants (Rollin Home, 1998) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAUzJmUkC7A