24 October 2014, 11:08
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A New Café in Yerevan Fuses Existentialism and Fun

"Man is condemned to be free"—Inspired by these words of Jean-Paul Sartre, Narek Bakhtamyan, one of the founders of Jean-Paul Existential Cafe, creates an environment that is entirely focused on the individual.

Why do you call the cafe "existential"?

The cafe is based on the main principle of existentialism, and that is to remove the person from the society and perceive him or her as an individual. We’re not trying to reduce people down to mere pieces of the majority. Instead, we observe one’s unique characteristics and encourage self-expression. Under these circumstances, the word “existential” indicates a phenomenon that lies somewhere in between a pub and an art-cafe.  We provide people with a space where they can drink, get noisy, and have fun. At the same time, however, we fuse this with the idea of an art-cafe, a place where one ponders the meaning of life, as well as the nature of being.

Do you help people to find the meaning of life?

No, each of us has to search within ourselves, not in our surroundings. Nevertheless, I think searching for the meaning of existence is a healthy pastime, and is something worth working towards.

So basically, you are creating a community of thinking people.

No, on the contrary.  In our cafe we try to stay away from ideologies of community or general, mass thinking. We’re creating a gathering of individuals who don’t feel the need to unite around some cause. The cafe is open to people, regardless of their tastes and values, whether you like expensive designer clothes labels or you label yourself with a rosary. One shouldn’t take the name Jean-Paul so literally either, as a full expression of Sartre’s essence. Every visitor has his or her own Jean-Paul. In reality, that man is an abstract image. For example, my Jean-Paul wears a barrette, has a thin mustache, and frequents our cafe almost every evening. 


Does he have a favorite table?

That is a type of formality, a branding technique—to say that this person liked to sit exactly near this place and drink precisely this cocktail made with this very recipe. No, Jean-Paul comes to the cafe and sits wherever he will, wherever there is a free space. If there is no free space, he leaves and comes back later, or simply sits on the stairs. He is a man devoid of trivial formalities.

On Sunday evening, as the Rolling Stones echoed throughout the Jean-Paul Existential café, one can find the café's founder, in one corner tasting newly arrived wines which might soon be added to the menu. Meanwhile a guest suggests bringing armchairs from his grandmother’s house that would undoubtedly match the atmosphere of the place. 

Is it all used furniture because you can't afford to buy new pieces?

If I spend money to furnish this place with new furniture and expensive decorative pieces, then I will have no choice but to charge my customers extra to make up for the costs. They shouldn’t be required to pay extra for an expensive interior. Prices are low here, some even say too low. Come, drink and don’t worry that spending an evening at this cafe will rob you of a significant portion of your salary. Besides, in my personal opinion, Yerevan came into its own as a city during the 1960s and 70s, when people would gather in houses, discuss, and generate ideas. Now, I want to recreate that spirit. 

There are no professionals on Jean-Paul’s staff. It’s just a team of “good people”, as the founder calls them, who are ready to learn, grow from mistakes, and ensure guests have a wonderful time. 


Who do you work with?

I don’t want to be surrounded by the best professionals, rather with the right people. The desire to learn and the need to create are most important in a person. Today the people who have gathered at Jean-Paul are exactly like that—they want to create a happy atmosphere.

Every day the cafe opens at 19:00. Closing time depends on that day’s structure, and on star formations. In a most charming Jean-Paul fashion, customers who stay at the cafe until four in the morning are invited to the founder’s house for scrambled eggs made with tomato. It is located on Arami Street, 42/1 in Yerevan. For more information, click here to see the Facebook page.


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