My biggest complaint about museums is the crappy to mediocre cafes. You just had a hopefully profound art experience, and you want to either a) talk about it with your friend over some good coffee, b) write about it in your journal over some good coffee, or c) space out and process what you just saw over some good coffee. Whatever option you choose, good coffee must be involved. Or even better, there should be some other drink that makes you abandon the coffee. But that’s not all.
You also want that cafe to continue the art experience, with cool or warm, whimsical or elegant decor. A thoughtful menu helps. Relaxing natural lighting shouldn’t be optional. Nothing should be served in a plastic or paper cup. The drinks shouldn’t be made from instant powder. The food shouldn’t have been frozen 5 minutes ago and unfrozen 2 minutes ago in a microwave.
Am I asking too much?
I finally found a great museum cafe. Cafe Hai is the cafe of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (I’ve got a dozen museums and exhibits I’ve been wanting to write about but I keep writing about this one!) The restaurant serves Vietnamese food in plates, bowls and cups that are used in food stalls in Vietnam. There’s a wall menu with items priced in dong, the Vietnamese currency. All in the simple aesthetic of the slow food movement. In short, a lot of thought went into this space.
The drink menu was so intriguing that we ordered the delicious frothy concoctions. Like a good art exhibit, the cafe offered something new and irresistible. They were served on bamboo root shaped coasters.
It was so good we went back after perusing the permanent collection and had their coffee (served Vietnamese style with tin filters) and the Moroccan pancakes (there were several Moroccan dishes and drinks too).
Even the staff had a cinematic quality to them. Instead of some soulless vendor who wants to squeeze as much money as they can out of their 2 year lease, the women at Cafe Hai seemed like they cared about providing an experience that vibed with being surrounded by art.
Suggested reading: Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn.
Recommended company: Your favorite zazen buddy.
Film to watch when you get home: Vertical Ray of the Sun.
8 thoughts on “Cafe Hai: Where the Quest for a Great Museum Cafe Ends”
wow how cool! I will check it out!
I guess we will have to go here together next time we meet ; )
May next year?
Thnx for sharing this.
it’s a bit out of the way, but i’ll organize a group trip next time.
Next time you’re in Kansas City hit the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper museums.
nice way to plug your cafe.
i doubt i’ll ever be in kansas city, but thanks for the invite. your cafe looks lovely.
I recall the cafeteria in the Toronto art gallery being so blah. All that styrofoam and plastic… Hopefully it’s improved over the years. It’s so true that it only makes sense to extend the sensory experience into a facility’s dining area.
I had to look up ‘zazen’ and ‘Vertical Ray of the Sun’ which seems like a movie I would enjoy. I put in a request for ‘Peace is Every Step’ at the library after also checking it out. What an enlightening post 🙂
cool, i’m happy to know you’ll be checking out the recommendations. you’ll have to find a vietnamese restaurant in your area to get the full experience.
Submit this to some kind of travel magazine!