Last Sunday, San Jose police cited three baristas for public nudity during a routine check-up at a racy coffee shop, the San Jose Mercury Times reports. The women, two of whom are 22 and one of whom is 23, were serving coffee at Cafe Quyen, one of 20-odd Vietnamese cafes in San Jose where (mostly male) patrons are served exclusively by attractive, female waitresses wearing little-to-no clothing.
Coffee shops featuring scantily clad waitresses are apparently common in Vietnam, where they are called "Cafe Om." James Bao of Vietnam Talking Points explains that "they are as close as they come to strip clubs in the conservative Vietnamese culture."
These Vietnamese coffee shops have cropped up throughout California in recent years, sometimes encountering legal and popular resistance. The most widely-reported battle so far took place in Garden Grove, near Santa Ana in Orange Country. The city council of the 170,000-person, 40% Vietnamese town voted unanimously to ban topless coffee shops in May. But the police didn't start to crack down on the 37 Garden Grove cafes -- many of which have been implicated in illegal gambling and gang-related activities -- until early July.
San Jose, because it's a bigger city, with fewer of the Vietnamese cafes per capita, has so far taken a relatively hands-off approach towards the phenomenon. But Cafe Quyen seems to be a particularly high-profile case. A blog post ranking the different Vietnamese cafe options, by a "Mr. Nguyen," which garnered over 6,000 comments since its posting in June, said that Cafe Quyen "has set the bar over the years in terms of dress code." (Though, in fairness, he also alleges that "the girls are not that hot.") And the cafe's Yelp page is littered with enthusiastic comments like this one, from Mark D of San Jose, CA:
Café Quyen is mind blowing!! I never knew you could get severed [sic] coffee in San Jose by a lovely girl wearing very little. What a pleasure. I have been here a few times with some work colleagues. They are all amazed. Café Quyen is a hidden gem in San Jose. The coffee is also very good.
Indeed, CBS 5 investigated Cafe Quyen in June and found that several waitresses were serving drinks completely nude, which is illegal under San Jose municipal law. One of the CBS journalists asked the San Jose police chief why his teams had not cracked down on the nudity, and was told that the police were too busy fighting violent crime to attend to the cafes. Here's the video.
The three Cafe Quyen waitresses were cited, not arrested, for public nudity, so their names are not being released to the public.
It's also worth noting that the Vietnamese do not have a monopoly on caffeinated lasciviousness. It almost goes without saying that Las Vegas is home to at least one topless coffee shop, the subtly-named Sexxpresso. There are several risque latte dispensaries among the thousands in coffee-loving Washington state.
California's Vietnamese hotspots aren't even the most controversial of America's sultry coffee shops. That award goes to Maine's Grand View Topless Coffee Shop, which was burned to the ground just four months after it opened in February of 2009. The suspected arsonist, Raymond Bellavance Jr., just lost an appeal to get the case against him thrown out for improper investigation. The judge decided that reports that Bellavance had bragged about having committed the crime -- and that his motive, as the aggrieved boyfriend of an allegedly unfaithful waitress at the shop, were too compelling to ignore.
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