Back in 2011, Ivan Mitin founded Ziferblat in Moscow as a community of poets aspiring to progress their work. Mitin shaped the idea for his cafes from a project he ran in Russia called “pocket poetry”, for which he would meet strangers in cafes and together they’d write famous poetry on cards and distribute them around the city. The little attic in which they chose to meet developed into a shared place for like-minded individuals.
Today, Ziferblat has grown to over 14 venues around the world. Three of these are in the UK (London, Manchester and Liverpool). Ziferblat is now famous for being the place where all your food and drink is free but you pay 8p for every minute you stay.
Recently I went to the Manchester branch and really liked it. I was curious about the concept and its origins. Here is what Ivan Mitin himself has to say about it:
‘The main concept of Ziferblat is not only to use an unusual pay system, but to create a space cushy as home where it’s comfortable for you to work and to entertain as well, a place where it’ll be easy to meet new people. One of the main Ziferblat’s features is a tendency to allow the guest to be autonomous, if you want you can become a part of the process: cook food and make drinks at the common kitchen, organize events. People aren’t paying for consumption; we pay for the space and they pay for the time, so it’s about participation.’ — Ivan Mitin
The thing I liked about the place was the easy-going atmosphere. There was a wide range of different kinds of people all doing their own thing. The down-side, for me, was the do-it-yourself ethos. I don’t really want to do stuff for myself. I do stuff for myself at home: when I’m out I quite like other people doing stuff for me. Especially washing up. You have to do your own washing up and you may even have to queue up to do your own washing up. Furthermore, you’re actually paying for each minute you queue up to do your own washing up plus you’re paying for each minute you spend actually doing your own washing up.
Overall, if you like the general vibe of slightly youth hostel, slightly studenty, slightly wacky, slightly arty, slightly beardy, slightly bookish… then you’ll probably like Ziferblat. And it probably does offer good value for money if you only require very snacky food. Personally, I do like that kind of ambience and I’ve found the perfect way to counteract the annoying DIY ethos and thereby get the best of all worlds; take someone with you to do the washing up.