Cambridge cafes are closing earlier and night owls are not happy
CAMBRIDGE — If you are one of those university students who enjoys working on a laptop at a cafe at night, you don’t really have anywhere to go in Cambridge anymore.
That’s because practically all the late-night coffee shops in the city are now closing earlier than they did a year ago — and there is now no cafe that stays open past midnight.
The Starbucks in Harvard Square, the cafe that stays open the latest in Cambridge, changed its closing time from 1 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the spring. (In the summer, they close at midnight.)
The Diesel cafe in Davis Square that used to close at 11 p.m. now closes at 9:30.
The 1369 Coffee House, with locations in Inman Square and Central Square, also now closes at 10 p.m. instead of at 11, and so does the cafe in the Coop Bookstore in Harvard Square (which closes at 9 on Sundays).
The Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square, which used to be open for hours past midnight, went out of business last year.
The situation is not much better on the other side of the river. In Boston, only the Trident Booksellers & Café is open until midnight.
“I wonder what people do after 9 p.m. in the city? Do they all just go home?!” said Mazen Danaf, a 27-year-old MIT transportation student who was one of the dozens of customers who were kicked out of Starbucks in Harvard Square when midnight rolled around.
Practically every evening the cafe is so crowded that complete strangers are not shy about sharing tables. In order to shut the place down, employees first lock the bathrooms and then give everyone a 15-minute warning followed by a 5-minute warning to pack up and leave, or “go find somewhere else to exist,” as one Starbucks staff member recently put it.
“I wish there was a place that was open 24/7 or until 3 or 4 a.m.,” said Danaf, who is originally from Lebanon. Back in Lebanon, the Starbucks stayed open 24 hours, he said.
Sitting next to him at the table, Harvard student Tatheer Adnan was also annoyed. She said she was used to studying at the cafe at night especially on weekends, when university libraries are not open at night.
“They also don’t really provide reasons as to why it’s happening,” she said. “It’s just been very inconvenient.”
The Starbucks corporate office did not return a request for a comment, nor did the owners of Diesel or the Coop bookstore.
But Josh Gerber, the owner of 1369 Coffee House, said that the decision to close the cafe earlier is related to the rising minimum wage.
The problem is that in the evenings, people sit in cafes with their laptops for hours without buying much, while the minimum wage in Massachusetts went up from $8 per hour four years ago to $11 per hour now, Gerber said.
“I think we’re honestly full at 10 o’clock when we close — the dining room is packed, but being full and being busy are different things,” he said. “We stay open at night mostly as a community service.”
The increase in the price of coffee hasn’t kept up with the rise in minimum wage, he said.
“There’s only so much you can raise it, people don’t want to pay outrageous amounts of money for a coffee,” Gerber said. “But to be open for an hour at night now, it costs us $40 in payroll, versus $20-$25.”
“As wages go up — and I think rising minimum wages is a good thing — you have to expect to pay the price as a consumer. The price of your daily coffee will go up, and the hours that coffee shops are open for you may change,” he said.
In Central Square, people are already complaining about the change.
On a recent evening, a young couple on a date had to leave the 1369 Coffee House at 10 p.m., although they were enjoying their conversation and wished they could stay longer.
“I’d want to know why they’re closing early,” said Maher Shaban. “It’s a great place to congregate and get together with friends in a place where they’re not serving alcohol and focus more on conversations and relations you’re building with people.”
His date Laura Little agreed. “It bums me out that there isn’t somewhere you can go and stay till midnight,” she said.
Boston College post-doctorate mathematician Jonah Gaster said he wished the cafe would stay open at least until 11 so that he could continue working on his mathematical problems — because the ambient noise and being in the company of other people help him to focus.
Bartender Careese Boynton, who works across the street, said that cafes that close early don’t fit in with the character of the city.
“It’s Cambridge, it’s Central Square, people go out. You would think they would have enough business. There are a ton of people here always,” she said.
And a few minutes after 10 o’clock, dental hygienist Shalini Lahoty pulled on the door only to discover that the cafe was already closed.
“I really want to get a hot chocolate at this hour,” she said. “So we’re going cafe to cafe to see if things are open. We’re literally doing that.”