New Piccadilly Booth 4b Special & Sunday Post Interview

The Legend of Booth 4b, New Piccadilly Cafe, Denman Street, London W1

This is the actual back booth of the New Piccadilly cafe where large portions of the Classic Cafes book were planned by lining the Formica walls with stickit notes. Now a place of pilgrimage, New Piccadilly owner Lorenzo 'Lolly' Marioni keeps the booth on constant standby whenever urgent Classic Cafes meetings have to be called. As news comes through of yet another imperiled Formica enclave the booth resounds with laughter, tears and psychotic reaction of all sorts. Lolly pops out a bottle of his finest Sicilian grog some string and a teachest and, for a few brief moments, London is once again transformed into the skiffle-swamped bohemian no-go area of yore. Special tours of Booth 4b (and tie-in brass rubbing sessions) may be made by prior arrangement. More Lolly here... here... and here.

Adrian Maddox Interview | Sunday Post | November 28 2004 | by James Millar


"Classic cafes is a deliberate piece of cultural engineering to get the cafes back into public consciousness, show why they are hip, make people see they are something worthwhile and ultimately get people through the doors."


Adrian Maddox is a man on a peculiar mission.

He's dedicated to saving something he sees as the very best of British despite being largely created by Italians and which is now in his words 'dishonoured, dishevelled and antediluvian.'

He's a massive fan of classic cafes.

There is fairly strict criteria as to what qualifies as a classic cafe but generally he's talking about timewarped dens, clad in Formica, selling cheap tea and milkshakes and offering a glimpse back into the 1950s.

And the two main hotspots for such places are London and Scotland.


talent for decrepitude

Adrian (39) explained his enthusiasm. "Cafes sum up all that's great about Britain, our talent for decrepitude. We're not very good at adult stuff like the Germans or the French, nothing works in this country. But we have a genius for things like tatty seaside resorts, old barber shops and classic cafes."

Adrian learned to love cafes as a child in the Midlands. He explained, "My grandmother worked in catering and when we she took me shopping we'd always pop into a cafe and she'd know the people working there. I remember the colours and patterns and familiar warmth. When I was first taken into cafes as a child I felt it was the future. It was like Disneyland in Formica."


A raw nerve

Many of the cafes first opened in the 1950s were run by Italian immigrants with every family member working in some capacity. Adds Adrian, "A great love emanates from these places and the families that run them. That's especially true in Scotland. "Classic cafes have a heart and that's very important to me."

Some of the first cafes were established in Scotland by Italians who had walked across Europe from the poverty of Italy in the late nineteenth century.

Places like Dino's in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, the University Cafe in Byres Road, the Queen's Cafe near Queen's Park still survive and make it on to Adrian's top ten cafes. The top ten and lots more information are on Adrian's website

Adrian, a former rock journalist, was working as a web editor at the BBC when he first set up the website in 1999. He said, "I first set it up as a hobby after trying to get other projects like a TV documentary off the ground for years. It hit a raw nerve and the reaction has been overwhelming."


dead men walking

A book, also titled Classic Cafes, followed. Its focus is London's classic cafes, especially Adrian's favourite - the New Piccadilly Cafe just off Piccadilly Circus. But like most of the cafes in the book and on the website it is set to close soon.

Adrian said, "The New Piccadilly is on the most expensive piece of real estate in the known universe. It's been coveted by developers for some time. "All classic cafes are dead men walking."

One of the reasons the cafes are closing is that the children of the Italian families that run them aren't so keen to take up the reins.

But Adrian lays the blame squarely at the feet of the big coffee chains that have moved into High Streets across the UK in recent years.


cultural engineering

He said, "It's an economic blitzkrieg. They won't be happy until every street in Britain is an identical mall.

"They move into the High Street, push up rents and pay lip service to diversity. It's time to say no and protest and answer back.

"Classic cafes is a deliberate piece of cultural engineering to get the cafes back into public consciousness, show why they are hip, make people see they are something worthwhile and ultimately get people through the doors."

Adrian reckons there are about 500 classic cafes left in the UK and that number is dwindling rapidly.

Some people might write him off as a Hornby-esque obsessive but his is a noble cause and he's committed to it.

If the day dawns when the only choice on the High Street is between burgers and lattes rather than egg and chips and a cup of tea people might realise he was right.


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