Coffeehouse Fridays #AtoZChallenge2023

C is for Coffeehouse Fridays. Third of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

During the 1960s, small, intimate, liquor-free coffeehouses were a thing. There were many famous ones, especially in big cities, where folk singers got their start or published poets declaimed their verses.

By the time I was in high school (1965-68), coffeehouses had proliferated across the country as a safe space where teens could gather for culture or just to hang out.

In my area, the Central United Methodist Church in Endicott, N.Y., (shown below) began hosting a coffeehouse on Friday nights – probably as part of their youth outreach program. During high school, I went there regularly with some of my more politically engaged friends.

A hip coffeehouse from the 1960s. By the time I was in high school (1965-68), coffeehouses had proliferated across the country as a safe space where teens could gather for culture or just to hang out. Photo:

Mixing, mingling, talking politics

A Library of Congress blog post on Coffeehouses: Folk Music, Culture, and Counterculture describes what typically went on in these coffeehouses — and ours, on a smaller scale, was no different:

Coffeehouses tended to be small, intimate spaces—so single performers playing quieter instruments – guitars, for example – and smaller ensembles were a plus…coffeehouses were also thought to be liberal-leaning, slightly ‘bohemian’ places.

The connection between folk music and progressive ‘message music,’ which was already present in urban folk revival circles during the 1930s and 40s, found a welcome home in the coffeehouses of the 1950s. By the late 1950s and 60s, many of the folk music coffeehouses springing up across America were on or near college campuses.

By senior year, many of my friends had their drivers’ licenses — and gave rides to those who didn’t. So on Fridays evenings we’d head over to the church, go through the street-level door, down the stairs, and into a room with tables and chairs, decorative lighting, background music, coffee and snacks — and a cloud of cigarette smoke, the one vice allowed.

Central United Methodist Church in Endicott, N.Y. The church began hosting a coffeehouse on Friday nights when I was in high school, and I went regularly with some of my more politically engaged friends. Photo: Google street view

There I deepened relationships with like-minded classmates and made new friends, too — including younger students from the classes after mine and some Jewish teens who knew one another from synagogue, but who I hadn’t crossed paths with at school.

It was in the coffeehouse mix and mingle that the idea for the The Star Spangled Avocado, an underground literary and art publication, was born.

Finding my voice

Much of the time, we just hung out and chatted about our week – but there were political discussions, too, about world events and our opinions of them. One heated exchange stays with me.

Among the coffeehouse regulars was a nice-looking guy from my school — longish dark hair, sunglasses, leather jacket, broody energy, drove a sporty car, someone I might normally have found attractive.

But one night we got talking politics, and it turned out he supported Barry Goldwater — a conservative Republican who rejected the New Deal’s social programs, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam!!

What?? I campaigned for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential primary (more in Letter E) in hopes of ending the Vietnam war — so I argued forcefully against Handsome Guy’s opinions. He remained unconvinced, but I was proud that I stood my ground.

And that’s how the coffeehouse was — social, yes, but also a place to find one’s voice and, in some cases, to form friendships that have lasted into adulthood.

“I’ll never forget our coffee house discussions,” wrote my friend Gary in my senior yearbook. How right he was!

Up next, D is for Dave Clark Five concert in Endicott, N.Y. Please stop back.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “Coffeehouse Fridays #AtoZChallenge2023”

  1. I didn’t encounter this type of group until University when, like ScotSue, groups of us would meet in the refectory and elsewhere for vehement discussions about religion and politics.

  2. I don’t remember coffee houses growing up in the Bronx, but it could be because of the neighborhood in the Bronx that I lived in. I didn’t go to my neighborhood high school, either, but, rather, a specialized high school about two and a half miles away that drew students from various parts of the city – many from Queens. So, a number of the friends I did make in high school didn’t live anywhere near where I did and so we didn’t socialize outside of school. And none of us drove. Maybe for this reason, I found today’s post fascinating – a way different world for me.

    1. I have a feeling the NYC coffeehouses may have been down in the Village back then. I am surprised that you stayed local in the Bronx. I assumed that, with mass transit, city high school students would be more mobile.

  3. I dicovered coffee once at university but I do not recall having any money to drink coffee or socialise while at school other than occasional trips to the movies

    1. I’m thinking the coffee at our Friday night get togethers may have been free — probably made with a church percolator, and a far cry from the more sophisticated brews of today.

  4. I didn’t go to any coffee houses in my highschool years. In fact there weren’t any in my neighborhood. We did have political discussions at the church Youth Fellowship.
    Once I got to college, we mostly sat around the student union and talked or had meetings about ending the war in Vietnam or starting a black studies program at the school.

    1. Sounds like you and Scott Sue had similar experiences at college — a few years ahead of mine. That entire period was one of productive political ferment among young people.

  5. Your times were very different from mine in Edinburgh in 1965, as cannot recall coffee bar culture, when I was still at school. All change of course once I started university when gathering for coffee in the refectory lounge or in the college cafe was all the rage and where I encountered different people and different views. Playing bridge was a favourite pastime by many groups but not one for me. I was struck by you saying that many of your friends had driving licences – few and far between among my group then.

    1. I think the coffee houses in our area were part of a youth outreach program, to keep us busy as there wasn’t much else to do in our small town. But I can relate to your college experience as we had a Rathskeller in the student union that functioned much the same way.

  6. I remember last year as I read your AtoZ posts, being amazed at your memory. I still am. You have such clear memories of your younger years. I used to attend what sounds like a similar type of place but we called it Youth Group.

    1. Well, I have to admit I cheated a bit this year by interviewing a few high school friends to see what they recalled about our activities together. I didn’t keep a high school journal, so their insights were helpful for some of my posts.

  7. Your Coffee House sounds like our Church Youth Group, no alcohol but smoking was allowed, ties have changed. We had our own premises in a church building and were open every week night for a few hours. On Sunday night we had a dance with a live band, the social highlight of the week.

    1. There must have been a Church Youth Group movement internationally, because yours sounds a lot like ours — except we did more talking than dancing.

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