Why We Need a Third Place Where Everyone Knows Our Name

 

Bars count. Coffee shops count. A gun range counts. Even a park bench counts. Each of these places is a “third place.” A third place is a location other than home or work. It is a spot where you congregate with others who have similar interests, cares, or passions. Ray Oldenburg made the phrase “third place” commonplace in his book The Great Good Place.

Oh, and for all my church-going friends, churches are not a third place. Deep, personal conversations are had around books and brews – which has actually become the name of one such third place. It’s like me going to a jazz club: I want to be with people who enjoy jazz as much as I do. There, we have camaraderie amongst friends because we have the same interests.

I was reminded of the importance of place when I read Elizabeth C. Corey’s article “Breakfast at Kim’s” in First Things journal, linked in this Truth in Two. Corey was interviewing folks for her research on the importance of a local hangout at an eatery called Kim’s in Waco, Texas. Asked why he had been coming to Kim’s for over 50 years, a patron named Max, found the question too hard to answer. But after he had thought a while, Max paused, then said the main draw to his third place was being known. Everyone from the waitresses to the busboys to the owner is a friend.

I have talked about this article to many of my friends. People want to be known. They want to feel human. Folks want connection, they want incarnation, they want someone like them sitting on the stool next to them. If this sounds vaguely biblical, you’re right. Jesus came to “make the Father known” according to the apostle John. And for us, Paul’s words ring true: “We are letters, known and read of all men.” So hit me up if you want to hear some good jazz. We’ll enjoy a third place together.

For Truth in Two, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, president of the Comenius Institute, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I have not watched the video, but Church used to be such a place for many people. 

    • #1
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    I suspect that many in the modern Black Power movement would use your argument to support their move away from a diverse melting pot and a move back towards segregation.  Separate dorms and all that.

    • #2
  3. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    I also think, for men, it is good to have a third place where men can be men. Work is coed, home should be coed, but there is nothing wrong with having some men’s only places (and women’s only).

    • #3
  4. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    I had to think about it and agree, churches would not count, but some of the spin-offs would be third places for many.   And I think there is a deeper connection with the people when you walk into a third place as if leaving the world behind.  There is an acceptance and everyone sees the good and has a hard time seeing the not-so-good. 

    • #4
  5. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Daughter (31 today) started working in restaurants when she was only 15. She spent a couple of years at a local breakfast/lunch stop. Terrific food and good service, the owner was usually wandering around chatting. Guaranteed you’d run into someone you knew. 

    A couple of times a year they would have a “reservation only” dinner. It was pretty expensive and I only remember attending once. Daughter sat us with a party of one, an older widower. We got to chatting, he claimed to eat six to eight meals at this restaurant per week. And watching how all the young girls and the owner fussed over him, I could see why. We had a lovely chat, he knew our daughter well, even going so far as to photocopy magazine articles that he thought might interest her. 

    I told daughter later that she and her coworkers probably extended the guy’s life by years. 

    Once she turned 21, she moved onto bartending and ran a place in downtown LA, which we didn’t frequent more than once or twice. Last month she and her husband met JY and I in Denver to attend a concert at Red Rocks. After the concert we found a dive bar to cap off the evening. Terrific place. I watched her and the bartender size each other up, within five minutes we knew who had voted for, how many children he had, his feelings on the virus, masking, and where he fished and hunted. 

    Brilliant time. And hugs all around when we left at 2:00 am. I said to JY later that I now knew why she had always done so well as a bartender, an ability to connect with someone very quickly and form a bond. 

    I know from running my own business that at the end of the day people just want to be loved, they want to know the person at the end of the phone cares about their problem and will make a sincere attempt to help. The recent ploy of customer service reps starting every conversation with “I’m sorry you’re having a problem with …” usually falls flat and just ends up irritating me because it comes across as patronizing. You know that your “problem” was probably baked into the cake and at the end of the day, no one cares. 

    • #5
  6. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have not watched the video, but Church used to be such a place for many people.

    I, too, am puzzled by why church wouldn’t count as a “third place.”

    I have some thoughts on that, . . . I suspect one aspect is that when people go to church, there’s a performative aspect to it. You put on filters. You try to present the best version of yourself.

    Which is to say, at church people are not really being their authentic selves. But at other “third places,” you’re more comfortable revealing your true self.

    That’s a shame, but I suspect it’s real.

    • #6
  7. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    I also think, for men, it is good to have a third place where men can be men. Work is coed, home should be coed, but there is nothing wrong with having some men’s only places (and women’s only).

    Such places are rapidly disappearing.

     

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have not watched the video, but Church used to be such a place for many people.

    I, too, am puzzled by why church wouldn’t count as a “third place.”

    I have some thoughts on that, . . . I suspect one aspect is that when people go to church, there’s a performative aspect to it. You put on filters. You try to present the best version of yourself.

    Which is to say, at church people are not really being their authentic selves. But at other “third places,” you’re more comfortable revealing your true self.

    That’s a shame, but I suspect it’s real.

    Holy Service? Yeah, best behavior is expected. 

    Potlucks, softball games, and ice cream socials? Not so much. But those are aimed at the social angle.

    • #8
  9. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Daughter (31 today) started working in restaurants when she was only 15. She spent a couple of years at a local breakfast/lunch stop. Terrific food and good service, the owner was usually wandering around chatting. Guaranteed you’d run into someone you knew.

    A couple of times a year they would have a “reservation only” dinner. It was pretty expensive and I only remember attending once. Daughter sat us with a party of one, an older widower. We got to chatting, he claimed to eat six to eight meals at this restaurant per week. And watching how all the young girls and the owner fussed over him, I could see why. We had a lovely chat, he knew our daughter well, even going so far as to photocopy magazine articles that he thought might interest her.

     

    I told daughter later that she and her coworkers probably extended the guy’s life by years.

    Once she turned 21, she moved onto bartending and ran a place in downtown LA, which we didn’t frequent more than once or twice. Last month she and her husband met JY and I in Denver to attend a concert at Red Rocks. After the concert we found a dive bar to cap off the evening. Terrific place. I watched her and the bartender size each other up, within five minutes we knew who had voted for, how many children he had, his feelings on the virus, masking, and where he fished and hunted.

    Brilliant time. And hugs all around when we left at 2:00 am. I said to JY later that I now knew why she had always done so well as a bartender, an ability to connect with someone very quickly and form a bond.

    I know from running my own business that at the end of the day people just want to be loved, they want to know the person at the end of the phone cares about their problem and will make a sincere attempt to help. The recent ploy of customer service reps starting every conversation with “I’m sorry you’re having a problem with …” usually falls flat and just ends up irritating me because it comes across as patronizing. You know that your “problem” was probably baked into the cake and at the end of the day, no one cares.

    Beautiful. Powerful. Insightful. Gratitude for sharing your story!

    • #9
  10. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    I suspect that many in the modern Black Power movement would use your argument to support their move away from a diverse melting pot and a move back towards segregation. Separate dorms and all that.

    I suppose that is a possible interpretation, though not my intention at all. I was thinking “integration” rather than “segregation,” finding camaraderie and sustenance in unity. 

    • #10
  11. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Last month she and her husband met JY and I in Denver to attend a concert at Red Rocks.

    Needtobreathe? I heard that was awesome.

    • #11
  12. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    I have a Third Place, “Josephine’s,” where I order off of the menu, and where the food I order is simply noted on the server’s device as “Gary Special.”  If I am running late, I can call my order in over the phone, and one of my favorite tables on the patio will be waiting for me.  

    I didn’t like their organic straws so I bought 500 black plastic straws that are kept for me in the back.  I am greeted by name when I arrive and leave, and because I am a good tipper, the wait staff fight over who gets to wait on me.  I know my server’s names, and they mine.  

    When Jerry and I met for lunch, we met at Josephine’s.  When I have an upcoming trial, I will have my client come with me to calm him or her down, and to relax myself.  Josephine’s is open for lunch on the weekends and three days during the week.  I will eat there 3 to 5 lunches a week (out of 5 available), and an occasional evening.  I quickly recommend Josephine’s at 503 North Humphreys to anyone who asks.

    • #12
  13. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    Last month she and her husband met JY and I in Denver to attend a concert at Red Rocks.

    Needtobreathe? I heard that was awesome.

    Nathaniel Rateliff. Great night. Gorgeous venue. 

     

     

    • #13
  14. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    I recommend “Proof: The Science of Booze” by Sean Rogers, splendidly narrated by Sean Runnette. Rogers takes some articles he wrote for Wired that were deep-dives into various kinds and aspects of alcohol, and wraps them in the thesis of the “Bar Moment.” It’s when you settle down on the stool and the barkeep slides over a glass of your usual, and you take the first sip from it. Rogers thinks it’s the foundation of civilization, and he could very well be right.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Considering I have worked from home for a very, very long time, I suspect I only had one place.

    • #15
  16. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Considering I have worked from home for a very, very long time, I suspect I only had one place.

    Is Ricochet your third place?

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Considering I have worked from home for a very, very long time, I suspect I only had one place.

    Is Ricochet your third place?

    Maybe a second.

    • #17
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Online communities can never replace a real “third space.” I’m not even convinced they deserve the word “community.”

    • #18
  19. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I have a Third Place, “Josephine’s,” where I order off of the menu, and where the food I order is simply noted on the server’s device as “Gary Special.” If I am running late, I can call my order in over the phone, and one of my favorite tables on the patio will be waiting for me.

    I didn’t like their organic straws so I bought 500 black plastic straws that are kept for me in the back. I am greeted by name when I arrive and leave, and because I am a good tipper, the wait staff fight over who gets to wait on me. I know my server’s names, and they mine.

    When Jerry and I met for lunch, we met at Josephine’s. When I have an upcoming trial, I will have my client come with me to calm him or her down, and to relax myself. Josephine’s is open for lunch on the weekends and three days during the week. I will eat there 3 to 5 lunches a week (out of 5 available), and an occasional evening. I quickly recommend Josephine’s at 503 North Humphreys to anyone who asks.

    Wow! What a place you have there! Love the story! And the straws! 

    • #19
  20. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Considering I have worked from home for a very, very long time, I suspect I only had one place.

    Is Ricochet your third place?

    Nice!

    • #20
  21. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    My wife’s third place is the gym.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I have a Third Place, “Josephine’s,” where I order off of the menu, and where the food I order is simply noted on the server’s device as “Gary Special.”  If I am running late, I can call my order in over the phone, and one of my favorite tables on the patio will be waiting for me.

    I didn’t like their organic straws so I bought 500 black plastic straws that are kept for me in the back.  I am greeted by name when I arrive and leave, and because I am a good tipper, the wait staff fight over who gets to wait on me.  I know my server’s names, and they mine.

    Now, that reminds me of a place that used to be. It was called Penn’s Thai Cafe. Penn was (and I assume still is) quite a character. Penn would take pictures of her customers and post them on the big walk-in refrigerator in the back. You never knew what craziness would be afoot at Penn’s place.

    I often eat with chopsticks. I have for most of my life. The Thai do not use chopsticks, generally speaking. They use a spoon and fork. I would bring my own chopsticks in and Penn would have a good time about that. Finally, I went and bought two packages of ten pairs of long, Chinese-style plastic chopsticks that were dishwasher safe and gave them to Penn. I never had to bring chopsticks to the restaurant again.

    We would go in, and rather than letting us order, Penn might say, “Chah-lee, I have a new dish I will make for you!”

    After several years, Penn sold the restaurant. A few years later, she opened a new and larger place, actually buying it from a friend of hers who was tired of being in the business. This one was called Penn’s Thai Kitchen. It wasn’t quite what the other place had been. Penn was a little older and quieter. Plus she was also running a catering business and was tired. Still, there were adventures to be had.

    A couple of years ago, Penn decided to retire and go back to Thailand. Penn’s Thai Kitchen is still here in town under new ownership. It still serves delicious food. But it doesn’t serve the sauciness and crazy energy and building of a community that Penn used to bring.

    • #22
  23. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I long strove to make Church as third place, but my wife and I are too different to fit in like it works for my folks, and so many in our Sunday School Class. 

    We have a circle of friends. They come to our home 1-2 a month for role playing games. We meet online 3-4 times a month for an online RPG. We play games online with some of them. When they are at our home, it is another place. 

    • #23
  24. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Mark Eckel (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I have a Third Place, “Josephine’s,” where I order off of the menu, and where the food I order is simply noted on the server’s device as “Gary Special.” If I am running late, I can call my order in over the phone, and one of my favorite tables on the patio will be waiting for me.

    I didn’t like their organic straws so I bought 500 black plastic straws that are kept for me in the back. I am greeted by name when I arrive and leave, and because I am a good tipper, the wait staff fight over who gets to wait on me. I know my server’s names, and they mine.

    When Jerry and I met for lunch, we met at Josephine’s. When I have an upcoming trial, I will have my client come with me to calm him or her down, and to relax myself. Josephine’s is open for lunch on the weekends and three days during the week. I will eat there 3 to 5 lunches a week (out of 5 available), and an occasional evening. I quickly recommend Josephine’s at 503 North Humphreys to anyone who asks.

    Wow! What a place you have there! Love the story! And the straws!

    When Josephine’s ran out of black tea bags, I brought in some from my car, where I have them when I order just “hot water” at McDonalds.  Later, when I ordered a dozen boxes of black Lipton tea bags from Amazon, I gave half of them to Josephine’s so that I would always have black tea.

    When I was undergoing chemotherapy 8 years ago, I was very vulnerable to catching an illness from others every other week.  Josephine’s served me and a friend on the second floor, where there were no other customers.

    When the main cook’s mother had cancer, I contributed $100 to her fund me campaign.  After she died, I gave him two books, “How to Survive the Loss of a Love,” and “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Good-Bye.”

    • #24
  25. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have not watched the video, but Church used to be such a place for many people.

    I, too, am puzzled by why church wouldn’t count as a “third place.”

    I have some thoughts on that, . . . I suspect one aspect is that when people go to church, there’s a performative aspect to it. You put on filters. You try to present the best version of yourself.

    Which is to say, at church people are not really being their authentic selves. But at other “third places,” you’re more comfortable revealing your true self.

    That’s a shame, but I suspect it’s real.

    I think you really “hit it on the head,” as we used to say with your comment. At the “third place,” there aren’t many masks (before covid, of course).

    • #25
  26. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    Based on Oldenburg’s thoughts, a group of bookstore/cafe/gathering places was founded in Seattle.  They are just as you describe in this nice post. 

    • #26
  27. Fenmir Member
    Fenmir
    @CaitlinCameron

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have not watched the video, but Church used to be such a place for many people.

    I, too, am puzzled by why church wouldn’t count as a “third place.”

    I have some thoughts on that, . . . I suspect one aspect is that when people go to church, there’s a performative aspect to it. You put on filters. You try to present the best version of yourself.

    Which is to say, at church people are not really being their authentic selves. But at other “third places,” you’re more comfortable revealing your true self.

    That’s a shame, but I suspect it’s real.

    I think you really “hit it on the head,” as we used to say with your comment. At the “third place,” there aren’t many masks (before covid, of course).

    I have to disagree with that. Do I try to present my best self at church? Yup. But certainly no more so than I do at work. I’m baffled by the assertion that church is categorically not a third place, and I wish he had given some explanation. Does he just mean that Sunday morning service and Sunday school are not? Ok, I can buy into that assertion. But why is Wednesday evening bell practice so fundamentally different from the jazz club? Why is is a third place when his book club gathers over a beer but not when my small group gathers over coffee and cookies on Saturday afternoon.

    • #27
  28. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    At my first job, I wound up needing to work full time off-site in Philadelphia for months.  Another Engineer and I would work 10 hours a day or so and eat at a combination Italian restaurant and pizza place.  Most people just got the pizza.  We had another co-worker who could turn any food place into a 3rd place.  (He was friends with Julia Child).  

    He knew just what to order when he went to a new place.  I can remember going into our usual place with him and he ordered some chicken dish.  The reply was that the chef didn’t have enough chicken for that, but it wound up that he did have enough chicken for a different dish.  We eventually would go in and ask what he wanted to cook that night and it was usually great!

    I think that is some sort of 3rd place – where it isn’t my favorite dish, but the chef’s dish that causes the bonding.

    Great article.

     

     

    • #28
  29. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Whenever I walk into Josephine’s I am greeted by 3 or 4 young ladies who are on the wait staff.  When I leave to go home, another 3 or 4 young ladies say good-bye to me.  Josephine’s is where everyone knows my name.  

    When the cooks see me walk in the door, they start preparing my usual “Gary Special.” 

    I could have bought the office across the street several years ago for a combined home and office.  I don’t know if that would have beena good idea to have my home, office and third place across the street from one another.   

    While writing my comments I kept thinking of the Cheers theme song, “where everyone knows your name.”  

    • #29
  30. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    I also think, for men, it is good to have a third place where men can be men. Work is coed, home should be coed, but there is nothing wrong with having some men’s only places (and women’s only).

    Such places are rapidly disappearing.

     

    The urinal troughs at Fenway Pahk seem to be men only.  Great place to start up a casual conversation with your fellow Sox fans, too.

     

    • #30