The Essential Cafe
Several elements make a classic cafe. A lot is to do with exterior and interior qualities - which must have been left fairly well alone for the last 20/30 years - the rest is to do with atmosphere and location but NOT particularly food.
However sniffily dismissed in their day, cafes retaining any of their original mid-Century detailing - however sparse - now seem like exotic national treasures. A proper classic cafe needs to have been left well alone for the last fifty or so years to facilitate that signature feeling of crushed romance and brief escape which such items supply.
The rules of engagement are:
Vital to a classic cafe is the 'third space' factor. This phrase was originated by the marketing teams who put together the post-modern mishmash of the Starbucks coffee chain.
The 'third space' is an area away from the distractions of home and office, somewhere for calculated repose and day dreaming: private yet social; discrete yet visible. Somewhere to pull into away from the crowds and bustle.
The coffee bar of the 50s & 60s drew, as we have seen, on this type of continental ambience but somehow along the line in the grim quagmire of the 70s and 80s most of it was lost in Britain. Only now is the concept coming back into vogue.
It is possible that a return to the correct form and function of the cafe embodied in the classic model may occur. In London the reworking of the vast Point 101 bar at the base of Centrepoint is a case in point. As is the superlative 50s-motorway- caff-meets-LA-Lounge design of the remarkable Stanley bar/restaurant north of Oxford St.
The classic old Soho Italian eateries like Centrale, Pollo, Lorelei, Euro Snack Bar, Sergio's, Bar Italia, Presto, 101, Bar Bruno and the Cappuccetto all remain popular and have steadfastly retained their original 50s decor.
Cafes are for nestling into on a drizzly London morning and watching the world go by. We want these places to be occupied by groups of committed cafe casualties. KFC's or McDonalds' clones are ruled out automatically as are any Aroma-style brasserie wannabees.
We like to hear plenty of hissing steam and feel a solid warmth.
There must be a whiff of the 50s & 60s to the classic cafe. A waft of early 70s is acceptable - as shown in the Wimpy in the opening sequence of 'Bedazzled' - but generally speaking the less red or yellow moulded seating bolted to floors the better.
One sight of this dread arrangement as you approach a likely looking frontage and you know all is lost!
For an at-a-glance guide to the precise requirements necessary to make a Classic Cafe click below.