Spotlight Regular

with Peter Foges

by Aileen Kyoko Haugh

If there is anyone who understands the beauty of café culture, it's Peter Foges. Equally, the same man can tell you in ten words or less why a good local cafe is integral to the life well lived and how without it, we would all be a lot less connected. It is the modern day equivalent of the agora. He describes Café Regular (CR) as a hidden gem tucked away in a leafy neighborhood studiously caffeinating and, at the same time, connecting, in the gentlest way possible, intellectuals, filmmakers, actors, journalists, writers and artists with each other. I came upon Peter on the cobblestone path outside the Berkley Place location. Looking dapper as usual, dressed head to toe in a classy suit, Peter was reading the Times and sipping his morning coffee punctuated by the occasional cigarette. Peter pulled away from the paper to chat with me. Peter opened up about being fueled by café culture, the art of lingering and the role of the cafe in the birth of modern day philosophy.
You could say that café culture is in Peter’s blood. His Grandfather Arthur Foges, a poet and doctor living in Vienna in the 1900’s, spent time at Café Central. The coffeehouse was the not just the main meeting place for the thriving intellectual scene in Vienna, it was its very locus. Peter described it as a place where ideas were born over coffee. From Freud’s psychoanalysis to aspects of Communism, so much of what made the modern world drew its first breath there. Regulars included Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin. Peter’s Grandfather spent afternoons playing chess and cards with Trotsky.
Peter grew up in Post-War London where he first began to examine the creative atmosphere that filled cafes. During a gap year from school, Peter ventured to Paris for a new kind of adventure. Not too different from today’s brutal intern programs from the sounds of it, Peter took an internship at a French Publishing Company. There, he stumbled upon the legendary Café de Flore. The cafe hosted many bold names such as Simone de Beauvoir. It is said that Madame De Beauvoir wrote ‘The Second Sex’ at the Café de Flore. As the mother ship for modern day thinkers, surrealism took flight there. Peter was seduced by this new way of life. He described the patrons of the café as part of the very texture of the café – inextricably interconnected. It was, simply, a way of life.
I ask Peter for his thoughts on Café Regular and he begins by explaining that good coffee is a rather new concept in New York. He praises CR for its high quality coffee. More than the eye –opening sips, Peter comes here almost daily for the company and the ambience. He shakes his head as he tells me it’s a shame that New York won’t allow tables on the sidewalk without an usurious license fee which most small cafes cannot afford. He describes this kind of law as a “kill joy” as if people shouldn’t be enjoying themselves. He explains that in Europe there is a fuller sense of your life belonging to you and there is more emphasis on how to live that life - for example, people drink wine more freely and take longer lunch breaks. There is a certain European tolerance for lingering. Peter admits that this tolerance is slowly spreading to America. More and more people are becoming freelancers or students, whether by choice or lack of economic alternative, which allows a little more freedom to enjoy cafes and inch a little closer to the meaning of life.
We can all learn something from Peter Foges. There is definitely something to be said about taking time to stop, sit down for a coffee and appreciate life. Practice the art of lingering! How about it?
Peter Von Ziegesar
“I always wanted to be a writer. I don’t know why, I couldn’t even spell. I still can’t spell!” Peter Von Ziegesar chuckled. Author, most recently, of The Looking Glass Brother and a successful freelance writer, Peter still seems a bit shy about calling himself a writer. But that’s the thing about Peter. Peter is humble beyond expectations. Those expectations were formed when I did my homework – staying home all weekend to read his book before our meeting the following Monday. I expected a literary heavyweight. The prose is powerful. A story of people caught in the crosshairs of a certain patrician way of life in great decline, it is also a great American story. In one fell swoop of a sentence, Peter can square away an observation about life that you recognize but just couldn’t wrap words around until now. Why wouldn’t I have expectations? I met Peter at the petite 11th street Café Regular location. Long after we exchanged our first words, he left me with a lasting impression of a humble and wise eyed man brimming with a rare humanity. Choosing to take his delectable soy latte half caffeinated, Peter opened up about everything from his draw towards creative communities to the heartbreaking story of his homeless brother that inspired his first memoir. Born and raised in Connecticut, Peter was a creative soul drawn to the arts. After studying film and sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute, he moves to New York City where he instantly immerses himself in the art scene that is exploding in the East Village. It is the early 80’s and Peter moves into a tiny apartment in Alphabet City with his college girlfriend. His friends and neighbors are Keith Haring, Christy Rupp and John Abern. Everyone is a DJ, filmmaker or writer. Everyone is, literally, bursting with creativity. He described the age as very collaborative yet cynical. “Everyone you met went to art school. Everyone you met was in a band...literally. Everyone was an artist. And if they weren’t allergic to drugs, they were on them. Everyone thought they were stars.” Keith Harings’s graffitied walls reflected the zeitgeist. It was a fun yet very dark time, which he explains was, in part, due to the conservative powers that were. Think Reagan, Bush. Astor Place subway station was no different than England during the war with many homeless people finding shelter there. He confesses to me that the Atomic era was scary as hell and when he was invited back to Kansas City, he jumped at the opportunity. Back in Kansas City, Peter worked for a Video Production Company as an art reporter. Then, one day, he is asked to review an art book. Peter realized that though he didn’t have much writing experience, he could take a stab at it. And it gets published. Inspired, Peter begins writing anything and everything from reviews to short stories. He spent hours each day writing and sending his work out blindly. With determination and hours of dedication, Peter’s work started to get picked up by local newspapers. Barely into his new calling, he receives the PEN award. Liking his new life in Kansas City so much, Peter turns down Columbia University to continue living the life he had built for himself in Kansas City. “Kansas City was similar to what’s happening in Brooklyn now, a town with a thriving art scene filled with people who were ambitious but still in the moment. It was more about art for art’s sake,” Peter explains. Fast forward. Peter meets Hali while researching an article for the Kansas City Star. They fall in love. They marry. Hali gets into graduate school in New York. And, so it is back to New York for Peter. It is at this point, that Peter’s brother, ‘Little Peter” enters his life. And it is at this seemingly ordinary but monumental moment that his memoir begins. Peter tells me that he wrote The Looking Glass Brother almost entirely in a string of coffee shops between school drop offs and pick ups. He couldn’t imagine writing any other way. He describes coffee shops as places filled with artists and pretenders. And so it was in coffee shops that Peter’s beautifully wrought sentences, softened with his rare blend of humor and honesty, took flight.