Anti-cafes are “free spaces” for you to relax with friends, keep busy with wi-fi, play board games or video games, drink tea and coffee, nom on some snacks… and you only pay for the time. Typically, the rate is around 2-3 rubles per minute, and most have some kind of cap on how much you can realistically spend per day. Some also offer hookah and musical instruments for your entertainment- it’s free to use the instruments, but you gotta pay for the кальян. These cafes also host events like concerts, poetry readings, and language group meetings, so make sure to check their Facebook or VKontakte pages for schedules.
Russian: антикафе. Also called a free space (свободное пространство), time-club (тайм-клуб), or time-cafe (тайм-кафе)
The anti-cafe concept is credited to Russian businessman Ivan Mitin. He opened Tree house («Дом на дереве») in Moscow in 2010, where it was assumed that all interested peoples would share the costs amongst themselves. As Mitin described the concept behind Ziferblat, Tree house’s successor, as “to allow the guest to be autonomous,” to allow them to be more focused in the social aspect of the cafe than the payment (wiki). Many of these anti-cafes allow you to bring your own food and drink, organize events, and have jam sessions.
Mitin, when asked about the theorized Russian ‘predisposition’ for collectivism, instead insisted it is a universal human archetype to be loved and become one’s true self. “Everyone wishes to get back to the fairytale of the childhood… together to build a small world of their own where the ‘stupid and artificial’ rules of society wouldn’t work.” One Ziferblat helper laughingly told me the story of an old Russian бабушка who loves to cook in the free space because it reminds her of the good times during the Soviet era. Creating your own little world within an anti-cafe is pretty much up to you, but some societal rules apply: many don’t allow alcohol or smoking, and all request respect for the other folks in the cafe.
When I interviewed some Ziferblat helpers, they were adamant to define Ziferblat as a ‘free space’ and decidedly not an ‘anti-cafe.’ To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a distinction, as both are pay-per-minute, provide means for entertainment, and (to varying degrees) encourage a relaxed sense of community. Regardless, Mitin’s vision has quickly generated time-cafes across the Russian Federation, and more slowly, in the rest of Europe. They provide relaxed and imaginative spaces to break up the monotony of to-go coffee and espresso vending machines, a contemporary take on the traditional salon culture. So clock in and check out the ‘free-time’ cafes around St. Petersburg!
– Allie Sasek
Soulmate Cat Cafe
Fontanka River Embankment, 51-53
Coffee and cats – what could be better?
One thing that many students studying abroad have in common is the yearning to see their beloved pets again. Not all students are ready to return home, but many of them simply miss their pets and are in dire need of some animal cuddling. Luckily for my fellow classmates and me in St. Petersburg, there’s an easy fix to this problem, and it’s only a 7-minute walk from campus!
Soulmate, a local cat cafe, is a hot spot for coffee, cookies, and kitten cuddling. With over fifteen cats roaming around the small café, there’s more than enough love to go around. Guests of all ages come and go throughout the day, some for long periods of time and some for just a quick coffee break.
The cost of a visit to the café is based solely on the amount of time spent there. You’ll be given an activated card upon arrival that tracks your time, then you pay your total tab when you’re ready to leave. On weekdays from 11am to 6pm, it only costs 3 RUB per minute, and then 5 RUB per minute for the rest of the week. The best part: coffee, assorted tea, and cookies are free of charge! If you wish to treat yourself to a nice latte or cappuccino, you can place your order and pay separately at the main desk.
When you first arrive, you’ll be asked to either cover your shoes with plastic sleeves, or remove your shoes and wear provided slippers. The hostess will immediately spray disinfectant on your hands, then hand you your activated time card. From then, you’re free to gather some refreshments, pick a seat, and enjoy your time with the cuddly cats. When you’re ready to leave, they also provide lint rollers to remove any cat hair that might have gotten on your clothing. However, don’t make the same mistake I did by wearing all black; it won’t end well.
The café is full of different contraptions and posts for the cats to play on. There’s just about everything you could imagine for the cats’ entertainment, such as climbing structures, window seats, tubes, scratching posts, and not to mention about fifty cat toys scattered around. When they’re not strutting about, the kitties have countless places to take a snooze, whether it be on the sofa, cushioned window sills, or the pillowed book shelves.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge cat person, but I can honestly say that I love visiting Soulmate. It’s a relaxing place to complete schoolwork, especially since I can have a sweet kitten sitting in my lap while I read for class. Some of my fellow classmates even go there just to lounge with the cats and take a minute to breathe after a long day. Regardless if you need a good study spot or simply a good ol’ cat hug, Soulmate is definitely worth exploring!
– Charlie Bacsik
More Anti-cafes around Piter
Ziferblat/Циферблат (Fontanka Embankment, 20) Metro: Гостиный двор
Place 43 (Невский пр., дом 11) Metro: Адмиралтейская. You’ll need to buzz up, just say “anti-cafe” and someone will open the door. It’s up a few flights of stairs, but you’ll see the sign on the door. Rooftop terrace in the nicer months.
Anti-cafe Free Time/Антикафе Свободное время (1-я линия В.О.) Metro: Спортивная (or Василеостровская if it’s open).
Anti-cafe Club Mansarda/Антикафе Клуб Мансарда (ул. Марата, д. 36-38) Metro: Владимирская or Лиговский Проспект. Also a bit hard to find: arched doorway to the left of the bank, dial 3842 and the B button, take the elevator to the 6th floor, it’s the entrance with two lanterns.