Tagged: y2k

Memories, modems, and martinis

This is a short piece I wrote for Hungry Zine‘s special edition “Mall Food”, a full issue dedicated to food culture in West Edmonton Mall. You can buy the issue here.

In the year 2000, West Edmonton Mall was at its peak: Phase IV was complete, the dragon in Silver City was breathing fire at regular intervals, Playdium had just opened, and Nickleback played a show at Red’s — when it was still called Red’s, and they were still a local band. These are just a few of the things that made West Ed what it was at the dawn of the new millennium, but one tenant stands above the rest as the most Y2K-coded thing the mall has ever known. Offering a heady mix of martinis, cigars, and high-speed internet access: Bytes Internet Cafe.

The “internet” or “cyber” cafe had a brief moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when home computers weren’t a given and dial-up was unreliable. It’s a food and drink concept that doesn’t really exist anymore. Now, we have our phones out, maybe face down on the table if we’re being polite, whether we’re at a humble Boston Pizza (Phase II), a trendy hand-pulled noodle place (Mogouyan, Phase III), or the swanky, Fantasyland Hotel-adjacent L2 Grill (Phase I). Every cafe is an internet cafe.

But in the Y2K era, going online was not just novel, but also a very contained experience. “Surfing the net” usually took place in a dedicated computer room or lab — not the best places to eat and drink, Mountain Dew and Doritos aside. (If you were truly online in this period, perhaps you were sipping an electric-blue Bawls soda, with its 64 mg of caffeine.) Sitting down to check your email while sipping a latte was something special.

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