Magazine article The Spectator

Coffee House

Magazine article The Spectator

Coffee House

Article excerpt

In the series of radio programmes on culture, a guest of Melvyn Bragg's declared that the distinction between high and low culture was never strict, as a Wagner opera was first performed in a music hall. This is to suggest that music halls always offered acrobats and performing dogs.

But the Liverpool Music Hall, for example, advertised in 1814:

'Beethoven, The Mount of Olives ("A New Sacred Oratorio")'.

The fortunes of the name music hall are paralleled by coffee house. We hear, from George Sandys's visit to Constantinople in 1610, of 'Coffa-houses' where they sit 'chatting most of the day, and sippe of a drinke called Coffa'. Pepys went to a coffee house in 1664 'to drink Jocolatte'.

By 1891, the Oxford English Dictionary expressed a rare comment. After noting that coffee houses were 'much frequented in 17th and 18th centuries for the purpose of political and literary conversation' the lexicographers added that 'the places now so called have lost this character, and are simply refreshment-houses'.

They had gone the way of coffee-room - by 1891 'generally, the name of the public diningroom in a hotel'. …

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