Classic Cafes: Tea Rooms, Museum St WC1

Enclaves of the '50s & 60s


Located just off New Oxford St close-by The British Museum, this parlour-style cafe looks like a red-formica refugee camp for Pinter stage loners. Or some staging post in the old 60s UK socio-mondo documentary 'The London That Nobody Knows'. The elderly male clientele seem to have been regulars for nigh on half a century and the sense of lives solidified into defeat is palpable. A kind old couple attend to their flock from a tiny, pre-retro serving area that steams and spits with chip fat and spilt teas. The extreme spartan beauty of the wall-to-wall laminate is an acquired taste but for the unprepared, the lingering air of inertia, lost souls and weary despair may be hard to stomach. For classic cafes diehards however, this visceral display of raw, kitchen-sink existence at the end of its tether will be bracing. Nuggets of sociological detail abound... conversations prompted by tabloid headlines fizzle out as the regulars sift through the small change of lives made moribund by decades of social marginalization. Apart from visiting post-office workers (soon to be lost souls themselves as vast Consignia cuts are signaled for the Spring of 2002), the murmurs of endless, ossified mornings and long, atrophied afternoons haunt the wooden Victorian booths and exquisitely sad sauce-smeared tables. The Tea Rooms shows Britain doing what it has done best for a century - blanching the life from a working populace raw from generations of managed decline. No exaggeration to say that, even in the noxious afterchill of Cool Britannia, Orwell would have felt immediately at home here. Down and out indeed.

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