Computer geeks are now cool, so cool in fact that they have inspired some of the hottest new cafes in one of New York's hippest neighborhoods.
Three new "cybercafes" have popped up in the past month in the trendy East Village area of Manhattan, offering a very '90s feature--personal computers with access to the Internet.
"It's a twist on the old coffeehouse as a local gathering place," said Arthur Perley, owner of the Internet Cafe, which claims to be the first of the New York cybercafes.
Cafes with PCs and access to the Internet, the worldwide computer network, are cropping up all over the world, from London, Edinburgh and Hong Kong to high-tech centers such as Seattle and San Francisco.
In New York, at the Internet Cafe, the @ Cafe and the Heroic Sandwich, all within several blocks of each other, users can sip cafe latte, munch muffins and browse the Internet for charges ranging from $3 to $7 for a half-hour.
The @ Cafe looks like a dark, downtown bar from the outside. Once inside, visitors are immediately struck by the glowing computer screens on large tables all over the bar.
In the back room, a large video screen projects one of the color Power Macintosh screens and for a few moments, displays a Botticelli painting dug up somewhere on the Internet. Several people, mostly men, stand at the bar drinking, but at the tables, small groups of people are surfing the Net.
Two jazz musicians who walked into the bar for a drink after a gig in the neighborhood looked around in askance at the many computers. "Wow. This is so wild," muttered Valery Ponomarev, a trumpet player.
But after someone in the cafe showed them how to access some jazz areas on the Internet, the two spent an hour browsing Web pages developed by record companies, looking up album liner notes and checking out upcoming jazz festivals.
"It was very enlightening," said Rick DellaRatta, a jazz pianist and vocalist. "I was fascinated by the Jazz Online area. It gave me some ideas for my own career."
Indeed, while these cafes may seem to appeal to just computer geeks, all three in New York were designed to help both novice and expert computer users learn about the Internet.
A few blocks away, Perley, 38, of the Internet Cafe, said he started his cafe after seeing the explosion of interest in the Internet.
"The Internet was exploding in the newspapers and people were buying computers, but not really knowing what they were doing," Perley said. "There is only so much you can learn by yourself." Perley helps customers but they also help each other.
The Internet Cafe and + (at) Cafe both offer classes on how to access the vast amount of information on the Net and on creating World Wide Web pages. The World Wide Web is part of the Internet. Staffers walk around and help customers as they get online, some for the first time.
One regular customer, Anna, came into the Internet Cafe to have a conversation in cyberspace. "I want to go on a chat line," she said, as she waited for a free terminal.
"It's a fun way to meet people," said Anna, who declined to give her last name. "I want to buy a computer for home."