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More than just a cup of coffee

COZY, out-of-the-way coffee houses offer an alternative to big coffee chains. Some are like welcoming sitting rooms where you can make friends, bake cookies or doze off, reports Han Jing.

Thumbing through hip magazines or surfing the Internet with wireless access while sipping coffee is a common pastime in coffee shop chains. There's a tempting alternative, however, in cozy family-style coffee houses off the beaten track that offer more than the beans.

These hidden coffee hangouts don't advertise but earn their popularity by word of mouth about their ambiance, their featured events and possibilities of meeting like-minded people.

Opposite the Westgate Mall on fashionable Nanjing Road W., there's a typical old-style residential complex of longtang or lane houses where people go about their daily business, shopping for vegetables, getting haircuts and hanging out their laundry.

It seems an unlikely place for a coffee house, and indeed, stepping into the GZ Cafe is like entering the living room of a friend's home. The aroma of baking - from a weekend DIY cookie event - fills the small room, just about 30 square meters. There's one big table and several medium-size tables.

Coffee is around 30 yuan (US$4.40) a cup.

A white-collar woman surnamed Lan sits there with her boyfriend, sharing a big table with two friendly folks they just met. They spent two hours baking trays of mocha, cocoa and butter cookies.

Lan's boyfriend took her to the coffee house for the first time to make cookies and she loved the getaway from daily routine. She wants to take part in other GZ events.

"We deliberately use big tables instead of small ones that are typical in chain shops, says Zhong Shun, one of the owners who worked in a chain before starting his own business. "The larger table inspires much more communication among our customers."

GZ offers live, two-hour performances by local indie folk bands on Saturdays. No reservations needed. People are encouraged to stop by and relax, but it does get crowded on weekends.

Graz, GZ's other owner, says she once fell asleep in a friend's homey cafe and then dreamed of opening her own cozy place where people can just doze off.

"It's great to come back here, it's like home," says Graz.

Although they plan to enlarge GZ and open other cafes, Graz says they will be like the original warm, family-style cafe.

Just a few rows of houses away from GZ, small wooden signs saying Nap Zakka appear on a brick wall at the deep end of a lane. Many people pass and don't even notice.

Nap Zakka, which opened on the New Year's Day, is a small variety store associated with the Nap Cafe on Changle Road, which is a favorite among young people. As the name implies, you can relax and take a nap.

The owners, a young couple Zhu Yi and Ji Rong, quit their tedious white-collar jobs and opened their own coffee studio, making their business dream a reality. The Nap Cafe is in a winding longtang.

Nap Zakka offers many items, including stationery, pens and pen containers, hand made postcards, lamps, hourglasses, wooden picture frames, porcelain tea sets, rattan baskets and cotton cushions. Most are eco-friendly and affordable, many costing around 10 yuan.

Products will be updated and eventually around 700 items will be stocked.

The popular afternoon events at Nap Cafe will also be held at Nap Zakka at weekends. Making Irish coffee is the theme in March, in honor of St Patrick's Day on March 17.

"We always love to introduce different cultures," says Ji, known as Dewpearl to customers. "We rack our brains to come up with new monthly events since we don't like to duplicate."

Another charming coffee house is Vienna Cafe on quiet Shaoxing Road. It has a bit of a scholarly atmosphere. Movies are screened every Thursday night, offering much more diverse fare than that in cinemas.

"It's not limited to obscure art movies, we have popular titles as well," says Zhao Xing, the cafe's event planner. Subtitles are in English. Sometimes post-screening discussions are held.

During the Shanghai International Literature Festival from today to March 22, Vienna Cafe will offer a literary salon. Guests are invited to read aloud their unsent letters in any language as a sharing experience with strangers.

Activities and informal talks are planned in the run-up to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

"We like to encourage our customers to socialize and create an interactive atmosphere," says Zhao.

Though the cozy cafe owners certainly don't mind the profits, they say they don't want to get too big and lose the congenial, get-acquainted atmosphere.

Your own cozy cafes

GZ Cafe

Opening hours: 12-10pm (closed on Mondays)

Address: Bldg 162, 1025 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 5213-2139 (call for reservations for DIY cooking, 2 to 4 people preferred)

Cost: 30 yuan for 60 cookies, 60 yuan for 6-inch cake, 100 yuan for 8-inch cake

Vienna Cafe

Opening hours: 8am-10pm (closes at 8pm on Wednesdays and Sundays and at 11pm on Thursdays)

Address: Bldg 2, 25 Shaoxing Rd

Tel: 6445-2131 (call for reservations for Thursday movie nights. No admission)

LP Cafe

Address: 1399 Huashan Rd, near Hunan Rd

Tel: 6294-0233

iLost Shanghai

Address: Bldg 33, 1025 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 6217-2009

Nap Zakka

Opening hours: 1-8:30pm

Address: 58, 1025 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 5213-3067 (call for reservations for weekend events, 50-60 yuan per person)

NianNian's Home

Address: 4/F, Bldg 6, 682 Changle Rd, near Xiangyang Rd N.

Tel: 5403-8841

909 Cafe

Address: Room 101-105, Bldg 1, D1 International Creative Space, 909 Tianyaoqiao Rd

Tel: 5412-0991

Boonna Cafe

Address: 1690 Huaihai Rd M., near Shanghai Library

Tel: 6433-0835


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