Originally created 04/17/99

Cybercafe proves there's no safety in numbers



WASHINGTON -- Surfing the web is generally a solitary experience, but does it have to be? No, say the folks behind Myth.com (www.cafemyth.com), an enormous new Georgetown cybercafe, and they say it rather loudly. For $10 an hour, customers can try the restaurant's lightning-fast ADSL connection at one of eight PCs or three Macs. The place also offers a wide range of other computer-related services, from CD recording to Web design.

Cybercafes are not a new phenomenon. A slew of them opened up around the country in the early '90s as the Web was starting to catch on, but few stood the test of time. The ones still standing in the Washington area are small, neighborhood hangouts -- very modest in comparison to this two-floor establishment.

For all its ambition, though, Myth.com is susceptible to the same technical difficulties as everybody else: One Saturday this month, Web access at the restaurant was down most of the day. CAIS, Myth.com's Internet provider, blamed Bell Atlantic and Bell Atlantic, predictably, blamed CAIS. "They say we need to do a 'cold booting,' " manager Pete Cato anxiously tells somebody on the phone. "Do you know what that is?" As if the stress of running a restaurant/cafe (and nightclub -- the place has DJs spinning on Friday and Saturday nights until 3 a.m.) weren't enough, Cato also has to tend to the needs of what he estimates at about $70,000 worth of temperamental computer equipment.

Cato says that the cafe is geared to attract the young, the early adopters, the college crowd. But how many people will pay 10 bucks an hour to surf the Web when anyone can pay $20 for unlimited, though slower, monthly access at home? Tourists wanting to check their e-mail will certainly show up, but they're going to have to eat a lot of crepes (the restaurant's specialty) while they're here to cover the rent on this prime slice of Georgetown real estate.

So far, not a lot of people seem to have discovered the place. The owners, for their part, have gotten just about everything under their control right and have spared little expense while doing so. The food is both good and reasonably priced, and the place is beautifully decorated in an unusual but attractive sci-fi explosion of purple and silver. Which leaves the owners much like the rest of the Web universe: Waiting for a connection.