If there’s a polar opposite to the kind of underground, lefty, beat-poet-ridden coffee shop that American cities reliably produced from the 1950s to the early 2000s, the Capital One Board of Directors has perfected it with the Capital One Café.
The café as a hangout for dissidents, rebels, and poets is not an American invention. The English and French Revolutions both have conspiratorial coffee klatsches in their DNA. Bars could serve the same purpose but don’t: pretentious poetry and socialist theories apparently need a certain amount of caffeine to make them go.
The first coffee shop that captured my stony little heart was a place called Chimes, in Philadelphia’s University City. It was perfectly positioned on the route from my job at a non-profit in West Philly to my apartment in Center City. They served strong coffee and a very pleasant homemade zucchini bread. I would sit in there grappling with the problems that plague people in their early 20s (and everyone else for that matter): Who am I? Where am I going? Can I afford a second slice of zucchini bread? It was, as all such places should be, small, dimly lit, and commercially unsuccessful.
In contrast, the Capital One Café I visited this spring in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza shopping district is lit like an operating theater. As if to say: we see you. We know your credit score. We know that you definitely cannot afford a second slice of zucchini bread.
While it truly is a Starbucks-esque coffee shop on one side, the other side is a sales floor for Capital One credit products. To the left of the entrance you are greeted by a perky Customer Service rep — like walking into a mash-up of a Bath and Body Works and a phone tree. I wasn’t 100% sure what the story was with the credit card side of the operation because, to tell the truth, I was scared of it. Everything a credit card company asks you or gives you or otherwise offers is designed to ensure that they get more of your money. So I didn’t want to engage with them, lest they offer to increase my credit limit or my interest rate for some reason.
I did notice that there was a credit card themed jigsaw puzzle on a back table on the “credit card” side. Presumably as a way to keep your children amused and engaged while a monolithic financial organization…