London’s Pay As You Go Café, ‘Ziferblat’ (and the death of counterculture)

We tried that trendy new café in Shoreditch


Just how exactly did second-hand tat, obsolete game consoles and glasses without prescription become “cool”? Often this is not enough. To truly undo the suffocating noose of having a large family home in Fulham, you must flock to the London’s next post-industrial heap and set up shop with your equally bland band of pill-popping nebbish friends and form a colony of vintage shops, unnecessary bars and unemployment dubbed bohemian living.

Think of some words, assort them into piles and pick at random: you’re bound for success. How about an eco-friendly brothel, a bar in a sewer or a daytime nightclub serving shots of ironic KoolAid? The possibilities are endless and what’s  for sure, the punters will be lining up. The latest jaunt that has both Hipsters and tabloids waxing lyrical is Old Street’s “Ziferblat”, London’s first Pay As You Go café. Brainchild of Russian social entrepreneur Ivan Meetin, its philosophy is simple. Your time comes at 3p per minute. Everything else is free.

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Guests receive an affectionately-named alarm clock to keep track of time and then head in. The kitchenette is well-stocked with tea, biscuits, toast and vegetables – take as much as you wish. Relax over a hot brew and flick through a book, play guitar. Strike up conversation about vinyl with fellow “micro-tenants” clad in misappropriated religious symbols. The place is supposed to feel like your own home. There are no waitresses or menus here, just a living room and some props to keep guests content: chess, books, free Wi-Fi.

The waitress suggests there are regulars to whom Ziferblat is already a second home. I took it all in. Forty minutes pass by. Following several hot brews, I handed back Hugo and received a bill for £1.60 in total. It is hard not to be seduced in by the experience. A charming flat with limitless tea, comfy sofas and good times a plenty.

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Yet, is it really all that? Behind the homely edifice of ginger nuts and washing up liquid is a business strategy that lies at the very heart of hipsterdom. That is, the desire to celebrate, commodify, ruin all things ordinary.

They’ve already made a fine art of it. Retrieve any technology obsolete enough to have been chucked up to begin with – disposable cameras, Nintendo64s, Walkman cassettes. What once earned a pound at the Parish car boot sale suddenly oozes “cool” like nothing else. Rolling tobacco has also made it. Glasses without prescription, also a winner. In fact, throw on an ill-fitting jumper whose owner’s recently bereaved partner dumped it outside a charity shop and it’s invariably a great find, a real discovery, a gem.

The 21st Century’s must-have gadget

Ziferblat plays on this glorification of anything utterly pedestrian with great success. What’s on offer is a living room. I have a living room and so do you. Yet, we’re both coughing up for the privilege of using theirs: playing house in someone else’s home with someone else’s friends. Self-styled photographers wearing sunglasses indoors walk around snapping lamps, kettles, books and anything else found in any home.

Time Out excitedly declared the café a potential “best opening of the year” only eight days after it began. Remember, this is a living room without the privacy bit. Did public toilets ever generate such excitement? Folks, it’s time to open a Pay As You Go Portaloo in Shadwell because you’ll be raking it in.

Translated into German as “clock face”, Ziferblat is the latest product of a counterculture so short of ideas it’s made the living room in. I like the complimentary biscuits and charm, but hope the clock is turned back on this particular trend- lest all things painfully unremarkable…glow sticks, polystyrene glider planes, porridge, become Hipster chic too. In a generation apathetic towards anything that actually matters, don’t rule it out.

It’s the next big thing