Cafes are coming to rival bars as the place to meet friends after work, as more and more Ugandans opt for a cappuccino rather than a Bell Larger on their way home from the office.
Common behaviour for generations past has always been that after a hard day’s work, a man goes to the neighbourhood pub and has a pint or two while catching up with friends and then leaves after the barman has put the bill on his tab.
In Kampala, having a bar to go to after work was a necessity if one did not want to be stuck in the crazy traffic jam that forces one to take three hours to get to a destination only 15 minutes away. But that all changed.
Maybe Ugandans discovered that drinking seven days a week was very unhealthy, or the bar just left us with headaches we could not deal with when we got home to our children, or we just felt that there must be more out there, because we have now chosen to hang out at cafes.
A couple of years ago, cafes were typically characterised by tourists in T-shirts hunched over their portable computers. It was one of the few Internet hotspots in Kampala then, so they gathered there in droves to phone home.
But the patronage of cafes has changed drastically. Today, walk in at 6:00pm and what strikes you is that the tourists and their laptops are being crowded out. You have a new clientelle. You have groups of young women, very well-dressed, sitting around their tables.
They have had to commandeer extra chairs so they can all fit. They laugh and gossip as they sip cappuchinos and lattes and snack on cakes. At the other tables, you have upwardly mobile gents with their car keys and fancy phones lying on the table, boisterously guffawing at each other’s jokes.
Café Javas and others are also enjoying the same boom in business. After work, scores of city-dwellers come here to unwind, as opposed to going to the traditional bar. Clearly, people have found the appeal in drinking coffee as opposed to alcohol in the middle of the week.
The appeal of coffee shops is vast as opposed to bars. A coffee shop is quiet and, frankly, after a day working in an office and dealing with the hassles of life, loud music is the last thing you need.
Before everyone got into the coffee shop fad (yes, it has become a fad), some of us coffee connoisseurs had a lot of room to carry our laptops and get both our caffeine and internet fixes in the serenity of a coffee shop.
You would find people with a book settling down to wait for friends who are still at work, or merely to relax before they head home and dodge the traffic. Without the loud music, conversation is easier, making the coffee shop ideal for dating couples.
For younger people in relationships, coffee shops are perfect spots to meet. Some have couches lining the walls and you can recline with your loved one and stare into each other’s eyes while the waiter brings you mocha with a heart-shaped motif in the froth of the milk.
I would imagine having your dates in a bar is a bit tacky and questions your drinking habits even before the other person is serious in the relationship. Asking a girl out for coffee is much classier than taking her to a bar.
A café has the advantage of being a place any person of any social standing can hang out at. As a young lady in my early 20s, I would walk into a coffee shop and find an uncle in his 50s or a teenage cousin.
You can even take your little children there and let them have a drink before their homework. Whether you are a pastor with a large church or a sugar daddy, you can all meet up in the same setting.
Though the bar is by no means dead, the coffee shop trend is growing, and more and more people flood to the various cafes in Kampala have become brisk and bustling social meeting places to rival the pub.