I happened to hear from a Polish friend that there are these Russian guys who have started a very cool anti-cafe concept called the Glass Hour in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I contacted Max Grigoryev who is one of the founders of Glass Hour Cafe. Let’s see in Max’s own words about the opening of the first anti-cafe concept in the US.
Max, I was reading a little bit about what you guys have done. You have an anti-café, is that my understanding? Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn?
Yes we are located on a quiet street in Williamsburg, just a few blocks from the Lorimer L train. The concept is the following: You have unlimited cocktails/drinks; everything inside is unlimited. We have high-speed WiFi. We have lots of cool features, and the only thing patrons pay for is time.
We charge five cents per minute, three dollars per hour, or twelve dollars per day.
Note: The real bargain is to stay all day because time is free after you hit the four-hour mark ($24).
How did you get the idea of … I know it’s a European concept, but how did you guys decide to bring it to Brooklyn and to New York?
We are from Russia where this concept was born in Russia. We used to go to Shish Kalpesh in Moscow. We learned how to organize the space, how to work in it, and how to manage everything inside.
We moved to New York a year ago. We realized that there were no cafes, where people could work or just chill out with their friends. Not a noisy place with lots of drinks; just a place to relax, or play board games, for example. We checked around the local places where people can play board games. There were many cafes or bars, but patrons needed to pay for drinks and food; otherwise. They couldn’t sit there and play. That’s why we decided to create a completely new concept in NYC. People like the concept a lot. They tell us how great and calm the atmosphere is.
Max, how do you differ from Starbucks and other cafes in your opinion?
We don’t place any pressure on people. They can serve themselves if they get coffee, take snacks, and other things. It’s real calm; a real good place to work.
So you are open from morning until night, or seven days a week? How does your hourly structure work?
We’re open from 10 am to 10 pm every day. We can expand the hours, if you want to book the whole space until 1 am or 2 am for special occasions such as to celebrate your birthday party, or you want to invite your friends to just chill out. On the weekends, we can work until 12am or 1am.
Do you ever have live music, or special guests or anything? Or is it more just very low-key …?
We have music there, but it’s not live. We have some really cool board games. We would like to have special guests, lectures, meet up with designers, and host live music, but we need to get the audience together. We’re trying to move forward in that and work with more creative experts, like designers or marketers.
So you’re looking to also bring in artists, and different people as well, and do different things so you can get a wide range of different audiences?
We had a few exhibitions in Williamsburg a few weeks ago. We’re planning to have a few exhibitions next month.
How many people does your café fit if it was at capacity? And special events – how does that work? Or do people bring their own stuff in?
The total capacity is around 25 people who can sit. We have two floors. If this is an event where people want to sit, walk around, and drink some champagne, we can have 30 or 35 people. We allow people to bring their own stuff to the café.
If you need to work the whole day long, the only thing we have is snacks, water and tea. If you want to get lunch, you can go buy lunch and come back. If we host an event, we’ll allow everybody to bring their own food and drinks.
Are you looking to, now that you’re open here, are you looking to expand to different cities, or are you just looking at more here in New York, or any other cities ?
Right now, we’re going to expand here in New York City. We’re going to probably create some really good events. Right now, we’re trying to reach out to different publishers to write about us. We think we can stir things up here. The tourists seem really interested in this concept. Probably in the future, we will open a few cafes in Boston or in Washington.
That makes sense so you can get people to know more about it. Then once people know more about it then you can expand to other larger cities too.
People are not familiar with the concept. We always need to tell people more about how it works, to explain to people how they can benefit from it. It takes time. Once this concept spreads around, then we’ll probably think of new markets and new locations.
When people come in to either work or socialize, do they pay … I know you can pay a daily fee, but do you do like monthly memberships and give discounts, or, how does that work?
The payment scheme is the following. When you come in, you pay $3 fixed for the first hour, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend there. After the first hour, you pay by the minute. It’s five cents a minute. For example, if you need to work the whole day long, it will be cost $12 for four hours. If you want to pay one month ahead, it’s two hundred dollars and you have a month’s access to our café. The monthly membership is best.
Do you give monthly people priority as far as working in your café if you’re close to capacity? Or how does it work?
We don’t have lots of members right now, so we don’t need to give special priority to those people. But as we get more members, we will provide more perks… The monthly pass will have special access to the computers, special access to the desks, and so on.
What made you guys decide to actually, one, come from Russia to New York, and also why did you want to open up the anti-café? Was it just something that you really loved when you were abroad? Or is it just you want to do something different?
We just wanted to create some new sort of environment for different entrepreneurs to work wherever and whenever they want to. We actually worked in that type of place in Moscow, and that’s why we decided to open one here.
Do you see a lot of differences from Russia versus New York as far as the people that you work with? How do the different countries … I guess, how do you say that? I guess the differences.
It’s a very difficult question because the whole concept was born a few years ago in Moscow and there are a lot of cafes like that in Moscow because people like it.In New York, people want to use it. We just opened three weeks ago and everybody is coming in to our cafe.
In Moscow, people are interested in making a career in a big, huge company. Here those people think about entrepreneurship, they’re self-motivated, they want to go out or go into the bar. The audience is completely different. For example, in Russia, people typically use it to chill out,or play some board games. Here people come to work, and they usually chill out on the weekends. That’s the big difference with the audience.
I feel like in the US a lot of people are very entrepreneurial and like to, as you said, work longer hours, and really want to build and do more things and build stuff, like you guys are doing here with your anti-café.
Exactly, and the whole concept is how you can pay for one hour at our place,and it’ll cost you less than what you pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Is there anything as far as food or different things you miss from Russia? Can you find all the different things that you had there in New York? Is there anything you miss as far as either food or culture or just the lifestyle?
To be honest, it’s like two separate worlds. People in Moscow, people in Russia, people in the United States are completely different, and that’s because, for example, this financial crisis in Russia, ruined people a lot. The whole economy and lots of people are suffering. Here in the United States, you have more opportunities to grow.
I’ve lived in Moscow, I’ve been to St. Petersburg, and I’ve been there a few times. People are scared of going somewhere really far from their home country, and they always think bad things happen there. It could happen all the time.
In your free time, outside of working and being in your café, are there any cool things that you enjoy doing on the weekends or when you do take nights off and do things?
I used to play hockey when I was in Moscow. I moved here a year ago, so I’m trying to find a place where I can play. I want to get back to hockey. I also like travelling, so when I have a free day or two, I’m trying to travel. Everything depends on how much free time I have as I like meeting new people.
Is there anything else that you want to share about either your café or living in New York or anything else you want to share with us?
We can host an event, we can work with different designers, architects, we are open to anything. The concept is straightforward. You basically can get snacks, coffee, tea, and everything.
We have a website. It’s glasshour.co. Plus, we have different social networks. We have Twitter and Instagram accounts, and appear on Yelp. You can also find an article about us on Out Loud.
Connect with Max Grigoryev and the Glass Hour Cafe:
Our company twitter handle is: glasshour
Our instagram handle is: @glasshour
Our website is www.glasshour.co
Facebook is glasshour