The hippest internet cafe of 1995


“Dude it was called @ Cafe — and they didn’t
know what the @ symbol was.” “Welcome to @ Cafe, as in that little a with
a circle around it.” “I was actually bitter that I named it @ Cafe. I had to explain to everybody, every reporter,
every human, every — even people who came to work there — I had to explain what the
@ symbol was.” “That little mark, with the A and then the
ring around it.” “At.” “See, that’s what I said. Katie said she thought it was about.” “Yeah.” “Oh.” “But I’d never heard it said.” “And they’re like, ‘I get it, at the cafe.’ I was like, no, it’s used in e-mail. ‘What’s email?'” This is Glenn McGinnis in July 2016 and this
is Glenn McGinnis in July 1995. In January of 1995, Glenn and his cofounders,
Nick Barnes and Chris Townsend, opened one of New York’s first internet cafes: @ Cafe. Their story isn’t just about running a cafe,
though it is definitely that. “Um, you know it’s fun to hang out, you can
drink around your computer and not worry about it.” It’s a window into how it felt to be around
the internet just as a mass audience was discovering the exhilaration and exhaustion of a new medium. “I’m terrified and excited.” And from the beginning, Glenn McGinnis knew
one thing: “How fast it was gonna hit. And that it was going to be completely pervasive.” In the 1880s, St. Marks Place was part of
a German-American neighborhood called Kleindeutschland. 12 St Marks Place was home to the German American
shooting society clubhouse. They came together to shoot, drink, and bowl. By the 1920s, it was a homeless shelter run
by a guy who called himself Mr. Zero. He sheltered a thousand people who he affectionately
called “Old Bucks and Lame Ducks.” And after that, the building continued to
house legendary tenants. “We selected 12 St. Marks Place. It was the old St. Marks Bookstore. And that has a really storied history with
all sorts of amazing authors reading their work there. And so to me it was very symbolic of internet,
the new media, and you know, I wanted to be there. In that spot. It seemed so appropriate.” But convincing investors was harder. The idea was a really new one. “I lived overseas a lot as a kid. I was always obsessed with video games. I played Pong and they could not pry me off
it, and in 1980 we moved to Tokyo, and it was like the Japanese were my people. I mean, they just adored computers and video
games.” “In Asia, most of the video games were tabletop. So you’d sit — you could have coffee or
whatever on the games — and they had coffeeshops with these tabletop games. I thought of the internet cafe probably because
of the Tokyo experience with the tabletops.” Internet adoption was pretty low at the time. Six months after @ Cafe launched, just 14%
of Americans were using the internet. How much more did the investors know? “Zero! They didn’t know what it was. They’d never been online. It was Netscape 1.0. They could only think of it in terms of Hard
Rock. That was it. It will be the Hard Rock Cafe, but with computers
rather than rock and roll.” “I was determined to do this thing, so I was
like, fine.” “Well the @ Cafe, which is a cyber-bar down
in New York City’s East Village is where we went to visit.” The @ Cafe didn’t have dial-up. Instead, they paid for a premium T1 connection
— the type that universities and really large businesses had. It was much faster than dial-up modems, but
that stability came at a hefty price. “The T1 cost $9000 a month! I think my FIOS which is 75 megabits, synchronous,
is $100. Maybe $200. It’s amazing how in 20 years…” The @ Cafe had a world class internet connection
for the time, and they personally negotiated to get it. “We basically, for Chris Townsend and myself,
just created hell for ourselves. The pipes for the hot water and everything
ran through the server room. We didn’t know anything, we had no money to
ask anybody. So there was no ventilation. And we had no money for air conditioning. So we made it a responsibility of the dishwasher
to fill up a garbage can — I mean a giant garbage can — with ice from the ice maker,
and drag it into the server room. And that thing would melt to water every two
hours. And that’s how we cooled the server room,
was with a friggin’ thing of ice.” The excitement came from the idea itself,
that people would want to go on the internet for fun, to connect. “If you go back and look, anybody can go into
the Internet Archive and look at what the websites looked like back then. I mean, it’s freaking hysterical. I mean, there was not a lot out there. And these pages were text — they weren’t
high bandwidth pages.” Despite the headaches, it still felt like
the start of something. “Everyone is like waking up to the internet. I mean, you have to understand, no business
had a website. Very idealistic and then the corporations
started to hit and that’s when they just came knocking at the door and it was like they
all wanted to do web launches because there was nowhere they could all put their homepage
up on all the computers.” And a bevy of new websites had launch parties
at the @ Cafe. “I was working non-stop.” They did events, they ran an ISP, and they
continued to serve the weird culture of a still-bohemian St. Marks. Artists like Mark Yankus even made ads for
them. “Everyone, college students, artists, East
Village freaks, Phiber Optik and his whole crew, when he got out of jail, he made that
his hangout spot, he was there all the time.” “That’s Phiber Optik with a PH.” “Today, five hackers were indicted on Federal
wire fraud charges.” “When we changed the menu he got bummed, and
we saw less of him.” “A lot of hackers were there. A lot of artists, a lot of students, it was
an amazing mix of people. The media was all over it, and so people were
coming from Japan specifically to see the cafe.” But despite all that, a little over a year
later, in 1996, @ Cafe closed down. “It was horrible from the beginning. We never ever broke even, it was the most
stressful thing…it was very stressful.” It’d be simpler to say that people retreated
from internet cafes to use the internet at home, and there were a lot of AOL CDs offering
people free trials. “We had hundreds of AOL CDs at the cafe. I mean just the amount of CDs was just ludicrous.” But the cafe closed for a lot of reasons. It was tough to make money with a T1 connection,
but it was also just tough to run a restaurant in general. The internet wasn’t the problem, the business
was before its time. “It was so idealistic, what we were doing. It was just to educate, and the internet would
never be monetized.” “The idea was really to create a physical
space to present virtual space, to extend the invitation to the public and say, ‘Here
is the internet at its best.'” Today, 12 St. Marks Place is not a German
shooting gallery, or a homeless shelter, or a bookshop, or an internet cafe. It’s apartments, a yoga studio, and a Latin
organic vegan restaurant. There’s no shooting gallery, bowling alley,
bookshop, or old bucks and lame ducks. But they do have one thing. “So I was wondering if I could ask you a few
questions about the business there, just to check my information. Do you have internet there?” “Yes.” “Do you know how fast it is?” “I don’t know how fast it is. I know it’s fast enough, all of our guests
use it fine.” Glenn told me that video chat was actually
really popular in the early days of the cafe, but the quality left something to be desired. This is what most video chats would have looked
like using the CUCMe software that was popular at the time.

100 Comments

  1. Roy Orbit said:

    Anyone noticed this references in gta 4

    March 11, 2019
    Reply
  2. wilson smith said:

    Those CRT monitors a)give me nostalgia b)were a pain in the ads when it came to moving house

    March 11, 2019
    Reply
  3. 27amsy said:

    I’m @ the cafe

    March 13, 2019
    Reply
  4. Pote Pcy said:

    He's look like craig federighi

    March 14, 2019
    Reply
  5. Papi Kaloy said:

    Thats not Glenn, Its Count Olaf

    March 15, 2019
    Reply
  6. oåooåo ipip said:

    Snabel-A!

    March 15, 2019
    Reply
  7. David Hughes said:

    Saying "video chat was popular" is like saying at Studio54 people "occasionally snorted cocaine". I recall it was rampant for obviously reasons. Anonymous, plus video, plus strangers.

    edit: and I bet that place had so much CK One floating around in the air your eyes would be burning

    March 18, 2019
    Reply
  8. Canaan Pryor said:

    “I’m terrified and excited…” That guy… he had the answers.

    March 18, 2019
    Reply
  9. LOproductions1 said:

    Cast this guy for a live action Rick in a Rick&Morty Movie

    March 18, 2019
    Reply
  10. malcorub said:

    I remember "test driving" the internet at Lalapalooza 1997.

    March 20, 2019
    Reply
  11. Kritiko said:

    1:13 my reaction to the Avengers: Endgame trailer.

    March 21, 2019
    Reply
  12. Max Powers said:

    "I'm terrified and excited" 2019 and no different feelings

    March 23, 2019
    Reply
  13. Alexander Martin said:

    I wanna marry this guy

    March 24, 2019
    Reply
  14. bathtimesam said:

    In the 90s he looked like josh from half alive

    March 25, 2019
    Reply
  15. YellowBirb said:

    My parents had one of these

    March 26, 2019
    Reply
  16. Taavi Albert said:

    "All wanted the Internet" nowadays many of them sitting in smartphones and doing literally same thing, but while on move.

    March 26, 2019
    Reply
  17. Kyle Noe said:

    Eyebrows.

    March 27, 2019
    Reply
  18. RJ said:

    he looks like Father Steve

    March 28, 2019
    Reply
  19. Adam said:

    Looks he did some drugs throughout the dotcom bubble 😂

    March 28, 2019
    Reply
  20. Amin Croes said:

    The year I was born

    March 28, 2019
    Reply
  21. El Tiggy said:

    Dude looks like a villainous president

    March 29, 2019
    Reply
  22. David Wilder said:

    These kind of segments are really great!

    March 29, 2019
    Reply
  23. Potato Salad said:

    Is this count Olaf

    March 29, 2019
    Reply
  24. Lucas Vincent said:

    1:14 is my profile pic

    March 30, 2019
    Reply
  25. Paras Phoenix said:

    Eyebrows on Fleak

    March 30, 2019
    Reply
  26. AlissonSv2 said:

    "I'm terrified and excited"

    March 30, 2019
    Reply
  27. Fareen Mohamed said:

    Glen has aged really well

    March 31, 2019
    Reply
  28. TheBluePanda said:

    I could rule the world if I had hair like that.

    April 1, 2019
    Reply
  29. K D said:

    Can somebody please bring back the German American shooting society clubhouse?

    April 2, 2019
    Reply
  30. Robert G said:

    Does anyone know any of the music used in this video? Thanks!

    April 2, 2019
    Reply
  31. KingofTheCrows said:

    so this started the downfall of humanity? or was it the singularity of the invention of computers

    April 2, 2019
    Reply
  32. MrRamazanLale2 said:

    Damn Vegans

    April 3, 2019
    Reply
  33. Jeff Tolton said:

    @ 1:13 lmao

    April 3, 2019
    Reply
  34. hatednyc said:

    At the time I HATED the 90's but now I miss it horribly. I never hung out at this place but ALT DOT CAFE on Avenue A off of Saint Marks (closer to 9th) was my spot!!

    April 3, 2019
    Reply
  35. Eitan Gallego said:

    1:18 Who though he was gonna drop the f-bomb??,,😂😂🤣🤣

    April 4, 2019
    Reply
  36. Sarth said:

    Is it just me or is this guy literally Handsome Jack?

    April 5, 2019
    Reply
  37. CallMeBern said:

    "I'm terrified and excited"

    yeah same dude, same

    April 5, 2019
    Reply
  38. BobSkrub said:

    Gta 4 anyone?

    April 5, 2019
    Reply
  39. Dom Nic said:

    1:13 doc octopus was an early adopter.. He's terrified. He surely is…

    April 5, 2019
    Reply
  40. jungwoo choi said:

    does he know korea had pc bang

    April 6, 2019
    Reply
  41. Benjamin LEUNG [10S2] said:

    he kinda reminds me of Trevor Phillips

    April 7, 2019
    Reply
  42. Hannah Puelle said:

    That vegan restaurant that is there now is really good, by the way.

    April 7, 2019
    Reply
  43. Diego Rodriguez said:

    he looks like the hormone monster from big mouth

    April 15, 2019
    Reply
  44. TheBrcylmz said:

    broooooo this guy can GET it

    May 3, 2019
    Reply
  45. Conner Fields said:

    He looks like a bigger haired Beto O Rourke.

    May 3, 2019
    Reply
  46. Conner Fields said:

    The ironic thing is that this is impossible to Google.

    May 3, 2019
    Reply
  47. Makaneek said:

    now the internet eats rock for breakfast tbh.

    May 7, 2019
    Reply
  48. jkjk said:

    Count Olaf???

    May 12, 2019
    Reply
  49. Eric Shaye Lankford said:

    Vox HIRE ME!

    May 13, 2019
    Reply
  50. kurwitz said:

    This guy be explaining what is @ to the media like me trying to explain what the meme 🅱️ is to my mom

    May 22, 2019
    Reply
  51. pls sub to me said:

    memories of GTA 4

    May 25, 2019
    Reply
  52. fireaza said:

    Imma take a wild guess that the "see you, see me" video chat software was officially spelled "C U, C ME"

    May 27, 2019
    Reply
  53. Switzhaund YouTube said:

    His eyebrows…

    May 30, 2019
    Reply
  54. Isolde E-G said:

    TWO LETTERS, Q T

    June 3, 2019
    Reply
  55. Dave Otuwa said:

    The first time I've ever seen an Internet cafe was on a cruise when locating the golf simulation room.

    June 3, 2019
    Reply
  56. Tony Uzi said:

    omg i'm getting 28kbps on my download…awesome

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  57. TheCoomar007 said:

    Internet cafe
    "Those are the best days of my life'

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  58. Darban said:

    1:13 I thought he was gonna say "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"

    June 15, 2019
    Reply
  59. M. Sami said:

    Hey, i was born in 1995. Thanks for making me feel like a child lol.

    June 19, 2019
    Reply
  60. Nyarome 2 said:

    @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

    June 20, 2019
    Reply
  61. Angelic TroubleMaker said:

    Wow he aged alot over the years damn..

    June 23, 2019
    Reply
  62. Bayu Akbar K said:

    Sit, ask a cup of coffee, connect wifi, chill for hours.

    July 3, 2019
    Reply
  63. Sew Sew said:

    I worked at an MRI place in 2003 and we payed premium for our T1 connection. I dont know how much it was, but it was so fast and we heard about the expense all the time

    July 9, 2019
    Reply
  64. Triborn said:

    Some people called the @ for a cinnamon bun

    July 9, 2019
    Reply
  65. MrDeltaNoir said:

    We are all terrified & excited

    July 13, 2019
    Reply
  66. Jessie Bumidang said:

    Right vision but too early for his time

    July 20, 2019
    Reply
  67. jupiter is a bean said:

    1:13 is hilarious

    July 26, 2019
    Reply
  68. Slappysan said:

    Just makes me think back to the Internet Club in high school. Such a new and exciting time…. except being tech support when I only wanted to surf.

    July 27, 2019
    Reply
  69. Harris Choudhary said:

    1:13
    1:14

    July 31, 2019
    Reply
  70. LuTubuMeu said:

    The man at 2:17 is actually Nanni Moretti, and italian actor and director…LOL

    August 2, 2019
    Reply
  71. Joe said:

    1:13 When Summer is Over and you Gotta go back to S.C.H.O.O.L.

    August 5, 2019
    Reply
  72. hotchd1 said:

    6:57 Is that Lawrence Krauss?

    August 6, 2019
    Reply
  73. Michael Miguel said:

    THIS MAN WILL NEVER BE BALD
    FROM – TORONTO – CANADA

    August 7, 2019
    Reply
  74. Reynaldi Ramadhani said:

    Netcafe a.k.a Warnet.

    August 8, 2019
    Reply
  75. na x said:

    Trust me your kids will like it!

    August 10, 2019
    Reply
  76. MrApplewine said:

    How does Glenn McGinnis think he is paying $200 a month for 75mbps in 2016 on Verizon Fios? He is paying like $80 for 1000mbps. Is he super rich or something and has no idea what things cost? If he is so into the internet then why does he have no idea what speed his internet connection is?

    August 11, 2019
    Reply
  77. don said:

    If you thought explaining the internet to your grandparents was infuriating imagine having to explain it to the rest of the country

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  78. TitanmonZ said:

    At 1.03 is the woman one of the Dota's caster right now??

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  79. Mayor 17 said:

    Ahead of his time.

    August 14, 2019
    Reply
  80. CB said:

    The man looks much better today than he did in 1995.

    August 14, 2019
    Reply
  81. TheDarkRay 2 said:

    The first guy to not be a boomer

    August 16, 2019
    Reply
  82. duzi13 said:

    Please more videos about the early days of modern internet.

    August 16, 2019
    Reply
  83. Simone Tosti said:

    at 2:17 there is an image of Nanni Moretti a famous italian director

    August 17, 2019
    Reply
  84. Gany said:

    his attitude is like an actor

    August 25, 2019
    Reply
  85. sunny sunshine said:

    It probably was klein deutschland (klein pronounced like in calvin klein ) which means small germany
    1:37

    August 25, 2019
    Reply
  86. AndyTHX1136 said:

    I had no idea Craig Federighi was running an Internet cafe in the 90s.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  87. Dave Otuwa said:

    12 St. Mark's Place is not far away from Obscura, a joint where ODDITIES, a former Science original took place.

    August 31, 2019
    Reply
  88. Vandelay Industries said:

    Year 2050.05 checking in. Remember a few dot years ago it was a fuel cell charging store? It's now a Beyond Plant burger place serving real meat like back in the dot 20s.

    September 5, 2019
    Reply
  89. nimita hapsari said:

    Di kita namanya warnet

    September 8, 2019
    Reply
  90. Era Estrera said:

    I remember that my mom is having a hard time to email her half-sister. She needs my help how to register. 😅

    September 9, 2019
    Reply
  91. Max Mustermann said:

    $9k for a T1 connection, lol… that is 0.18 Megabyte per second.

    September 10, 2019
    Reply
  92. lidette711 said:

    Andrew Garfield could play him in a movie about this. 🙂

    September 10, 2019
    Reply
  93. Oscar Fernández said:

    New York

    September 14, 2019
    Reply
  94. inigojuancarlos said:

    I remember how exciting it was to log online with your dial-up modem.

    September 16, 2019
    Reply
  95. Daniel Gonzalez said:

    This guy probably doesn't realize how much of a pioneer he really is and was

    September 29, 2019
    Reply

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