What was Café Society?

AMANDA: What have you been doing lately? During these last years?

ELYOT: Traveling about. I went round the world you know after…

AMANDA [hurriedly]: Yes, yes, I know. How was it?

ELYOT: The world?


ELYOT: Oh, highly enjoyable.

The characters Amanda and Elyot in Private Lives are indicative of a social group that came to be known as Café Society. It was the name given to the fashionable elite who spent their lives in the pursuit of amusement, luxury, and excitement in the post WWI era. After the War to End All Wars, people wanted to live in the moment, and the 1920’s through the early 1930’s were a time of decadence, frivolity, and defiance of the past driven by a restlessness grown out of tragedy. Those who were part of the Café Society were the most exalted of these revelers, living every moment as though it were their last. It was a mix of titled aristocrats, nouveau riche, celebrated figures of the day, tastemakers, people-in-the-know, artists, and society wits. Café Society’s mix of different classes lent to its eclectic flavor. If you were titled, rich, well-connected, talented, or excellent company, you might find entry into this rarified world of weekend parties, costume balls, glamorous nightclubs, luxury yachts and travel to fashionable locales. In fact, being fashionable in all ways was the goal of many a Café Society member. Some found the pursuits of this group superficial, even deviant and debased; and others saw it as glittering, romantic, chic, and cosmopolitan. They lived as though the Biblical phrase “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” was always in the back of their minds, driving them to seek life and pleasure with Dionysian fervor.

And, as Elyot says in Private Lives, it was certainly, “highly enjoyable.”