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Almost Shocking

A Little Skin With Your Latte?

Lauren Alison is a barista at Chicka Latte in Seattle

Sara Lerner/NPR

Bikinis are one thing, pasties are another, at least when it comes to Seattle coffee shops. With espresso huts as prevalent as mile markers, employing scantily clad baristas appears to be one of the easier ways to boost profits. That's what a shop owner told us on the program this morning.

But when servers tossed their tops and started wearing pasties at a shop called Espresso Gone Wild, some residents decided the caffeine provocateurs had taken it too far. Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon stepped in and demanded that the bare-istas cover more of their breasts or be considered "unclothed" (and therefore in trouble). The shop pulled the pasties, but the bikini barista wars persist.

Though the phenomenon may be new to Seattle, it's far from novel to other parts of the world. In Santiago, Chile — at least when I was there three years ago — there was a "cafe con piernas" (coffee shop with legs) on almost every block. I often observed java-craving new-to-Chile gringas wandering through the darkened doors, only to flee thirty seconds later when they realized they were the lone female customer amid baristas in shiny pleather.

When Hooters finally arrived in Santiago in 2004, the heavily Catholic city embraced it with all its might. El Mercurio (oh how I wish I could find that article) reported that Hooters was to be a sort of cafe con piernas "cueco" — translating roughly to an elitist bikini cafe. The hottest, classiest girls from the finest cafe con piernas lined up outside to try out for the honor of working there. The simple fact that it was American helped cancel out the restaurant's low-brow reputation. (Reference point: TJI Fridays was considered fine dining there too.)

There are three Hooters in Washington State. None have inspired major protests — then again, the waitresses there generally keep their shirts on.

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