THE Starving Rooster is a trendy craft beer bar and restaurant in the middle of Minot, North Dakota, which is about as close as you can get to the middle of nowhere. Step inside though, and with its big wood tables, high ceilings, exposed masonry and industrial setting (it is housed in the former headquarters of a tractor company) it could be anywhere. Indeed, it is the kind of place you can find everywhere.

From Beijing to Bristol and Mumbai to Minsk, bars and coffee shops have taken on a similar aesthetic: tungsten-lit, warehouse-y spaces with lots of wood and brick, serving avocado on toast and kale-and-quinoa salads.

Critics deride this sort of thing as a flattening of the world, a McDonaldisation of global culture. Kyle Chayka, a Brooklyn-based writer, dubs these venues “AirSpace”: “the realm of coffee shops, bars, start-up offices, and co-live/work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go”. Mr Chayka argues that the relentless spread of this particular design “limits experiences of difference” and causes “depersonalisation, in the psychiatric sense”. He worries that “left unchecked, there is a kind of nightmare version of AirSpace that could spread room by room, cafe by cafe across the world.” The apocalypse is coming, and it’s bringing artisanal coffee and overly hopped IPAs.

He may have a point when it comes to the tastes and priorities and worldview and worries of youngish people who live in Brooklyn and Hackney. Indeed, at a bar in Philadelphia’s Fish Town neighbourhood last month, your correspondent genuinely found himself wondering, for a fleeting moment, where he was. Yet to consider the spread of hip cafes and bars around the world from the point of view of highly educated and highly mobile Londoners and New Yorkers is to miss the point.

For the people who live in towns and cities far from the top-tier of globally-connected metropolises, these spaces signal membership of the world beyond the narrow boundaries of their homes. The Ukrainians who hang out at the Molodost Bar in Odessa don’t look around and complain that their neighbourhood looks like Brooklyn. The Bombayites drinking coffee at Colaba Social aren’t pining for the lost days of characterless sports bars. The Beijingers guzzling craft beer at Jing-A Brewery aren’t rushing off to kebab shops for watery 2% Nanjing lager. On the contrary, the global aesthetic that these establishments bring to their towns contribute to a sense of connection with their peers in Copenhagen and San Francisco. (Nor are big cities immune: London has seen a rash of craft beer bars open in apparent imitation of the American style of modern brewing, despite a rich and thriving culture of local brews from England.)

Moreover, such places also serve an important economic function. Across the world, people in their 20s and 30s are moving to cities in search of fulfilling employment, but also in search of lifestyles and cultures to which they have been exposed on television and social media. Authorities in smaller towns watch helplessly as their young people grow up, move away to study, and never return. In towns across the West, the age distribution has a gaping hole in the middle where the prime working-age population should be.

Creating desirable jobs is one way to address the brain drain. But equally important is providing people with opportunities to spend their disposable income. Fine restaurants and trendy bars are a piece of that. Visit any small town in the West—or second-tier global city anywhere in the world—and the places where well-paid young professionals congregate will be similar to those in London and New York. This is not so much a flattening of taste as a democratisation of it.

Finally, these places can serve as a meeting point for cultures. For every visitor who goes out of her way to search for “authentic” regional cuisine or a local dive bar, many more will end up at a place that is familiar and safe. For the Budapester for whom it is more conceivable to buy a house at the age of 26 than take a flight to New York for the weekend, that is part of the appeal of these places: they become meeting points for intercultural exchange, to make new friends and to learn new things. And for those that live in culturally and socially conservative places, such venues are all the more important as outlets for global values, especially in these inward-looking times. What big-city visitors and critics forget is that even in the middle of nowhere, places that could be anywhere are, for the people who live there, an essential component of feeling like they are indeed somewhere.