.Best ‘Third Place’ in Which to Commune

Aqus Café, Petaluma

Walk into Aqus Café in Petaluma and you’ll notice something different than many a coffeehouse—it’s loud in here.

“At 9:15 in the morning, the tables are full of people in conversation,” said co-owner John Crowley. “If you walk in during that, you realize, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’”

Rather than a bunch of vaguely anti-social people plugged into laptops like most coffee spots, at Aqus “it’s about conversation; it’s about interacting with other human beings,” he added.

“The purpose is to act as a gathering place for people to connect, start conversations, build friendships and relationships,” said Crowley when we spoke after I performed at one such gathering, the Rivertown Poets monthly open mic, in its 11th year at Aqus.

In fact, Aqus is home to a dizzying calendar of events that span from live performances to writing groups and facilitated gatherings. 

While Crowley’s native Ireland is famous for its pubs, they serve a different function than the “Irish pub” bars found stateside.

“A lot of people don’t know [“pub”] is short for public house. Our cafe is a shared living space,” said Crowley. This third place, the place people gather besides home and work, is designed to build social capital, that is, to amplify the value created when people get together.

Community dinners have been a recent addition to the cafe. On certain nights, Crowley and the staff have invited groups with certain affinities to come and eat together. The two- and four-tops are pulled into a single table to seat 40 or more people. Affinities that have assembled thus far include people who live on the same street in Petaluma, former Peace Corp volunteers and people who share a language like German or Portuguese. 

Said Crowley with a laugh, “Well, we could have a community dinner for people who like the color blue, because people want to connect.” All we need is a reason.


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