Flesh and Stone: the Body and the City in Western Civilization (1994)by Richard Sennett ‘is a history of the city told through people’s bodily experience: how women and men moved, what they saw and heard, the smells that assailed their noses, where they ate, how they dressed, when they bathed, how they made love in cities’. More specifically it considers how architects and urban planners have impacted on all this through their influence on how people come together and move apart, for ‘The spatial relations of human bodies obviously make a great deal of difference in how people react to each other, how they see and and hear one another, whether they touch or are distant’.
There is an interesting discussion of the changing forms of café society in London and Paris from the 18th to the 19th century:
‘Cafés on the European continent owe their origins to the English coffeehouse of the early eighteenth century. Some coffeehouses began as mere appendages to coaching stations, others as self-contained enterprises. The insurance company Lloyd’s of London began as a coffee house, and its rules marked the sociability of most other urban places; the price of a mug of coffee earned a person the right to speak to anyone in the Lloyd’s room. More than sheer chattiness prompted strangers to talk to one another in the coffeehouse. Talk was the most important means of gaining information about conditions on the road, in the city, or about business. Though differences in social rank were evident in how people looked and in their diction, the need to talk freely dictated that people not notice, so long as they were drinking together...
The French café of the Ancien Regime took its name from and operated much like the English coffeehouse, strangers freely arguing, gossiping, and informing one another. In these years before the Revolution, political groups often arose from these café encounters. At first many different groups met in the same café, as in the original Café Procope on the Left Bank; by the outbreak of the Revolution , contending political groups in Paris each had their own place. During and after the Revolution the greatest concentration of cafés was in the Palais Royal'.
Sennett argues that the wide boulevards of Paris, as designed by Haussman, encouraged cafés to sprawl into the streets, with café owners beginning to put tables outside. Two main centres of café life developed, ‘one clustered around the Opera, where the Grand Café, the Café de la Paix and the Café Anglais were to be found, the other in the Latin Quarter, whose most famous cafes were the Voltaire, the Soleil d’Or, and Francois Premier’. He suggests that outside tables fundamentally changed the atmosphere of cafés:
‘These outside tables deprived political groups of their cover; the tables served customers watching the passing scene, rather than conspiring with one another... At an outdoor table in the big café one was expected to remain seated in one place; those who wanted to hop from scene to scene stood at the bar....the denizens of the café sat silently watching the crowd go by – they sat as individuals, each lost in his or her own thoughts'.
The working class was discouraged from these boulevard cafés by the cost and atmosphere, preferring the cafés intimes of the sidestreets. The café as haven of subversive sociability was gradually undermined:
'The exterior crowd composing itself into a spectacle no longer carried the menace of a revolutionary mob... in 1808 , police spies looking for dangerous political elements in Paris spent a great deal of time infiltrating cafés; in 1891, the police disbanded the bureau dedicated to the cafe surveillance. A public realm filled with moving and spectating individuals – in Paris as much as in London - no longer represented a political domain’.
Interesting, but not sure the reality fits quite so neatly into this narrative. After all cafés remained hotbeds of radicalism in Paris for much of the 20th century - see for instance the history of surrealists, existentialists and situationists.