Site News: 2002

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Nov 20 2002

Lighting circa 1959

Click on the small image to the left to bring up the full-size ad for late 50s/early 60s light fittings from Design magazine. Real life examples can still be found in some remaining cafes: Dante's [RIP] in Duke St; the Sea Breeze in Walthamstow; The Copper Grill in Eldon St; The Zippy Grill in Goldhawk Rd; The New Piccadilly in Denman St... A lot of the shapes and forms shown here seem to have quietly come back into vogue over the last few years. A trip round any large B&Q or Ikea will throw up many examples of contemporary light fittings which draw heavily on these sources. Good to see the genre enjoying an upsurge in popularity but better still to find the real thing left alone in its natural environment


Nov 4 2002
The Zippy Grill on Goldhawk Road Shepherd's Bush is a perfect example of the old 60s Wimpy-style cafe interior. Wimpy Bar franchises hired from owner Eddie Gold (who had 12 in Chicago) were introduced into special section of the Lyons Corner Houses and by 1969 there were 460 in the UK - and eight in Oxford Street alone. Wimpy Managing Director David Acheson put their immediate success down to: "a whole new tranche of customer...people who weren't used to eating out...Wimpy was a social meeting place... it was cheerful... and plastic..." Good examples can be seen in the late 60s movies 'Bedazzled' and 'The Sorcerers'. Talking of good examples, St Georges Restaurant at 36a Clapham Old Town SW4 (RIP Feb 2003!) has long been a Classic Cafes Select Sub Committee favourite: fake wood & powder blue laminate walls; dulled chequer-board floor; outcrop of Aspidistras in the corner; proper stick-on-letter menus and an extended family of owners who will all come out to greet you at the drop of a bacon sandwich. So, why not muss up your Hollyoaks haircut, bouncy-castle trainers and shrinkfit Hoxton t-shirt, spread out over a couple of tables, fire off some choice Shoreditch-twat smalltalk - 'I luv that ad with the weepy little mobile being harangued in a a greasy spoon' - and chow down George style? Just how cool is THAT?

Zippy Grill Special #1
Zippy Grill Special #2
St Georges Restaurant Special #1


Nov 1 2002

As featured in Olivier's 'The Entertainer', for over sixty years this family-run establishment (silver teapots, maple floors, crystal chandeliers, traditional uniforms) has become a local 'rendezvous with a reputation for English fare good enough to please every palate at prices reasonable enough to suit every pocket.' Classic Cafes' man down on the jetty
Ross MacFarlane reckons: "... there are at least three ice cream parlours on the sea front at Morecambe. All close cousins of the London classic cafes: period interiors, cheap fayre, timeless atmosphere. Of particular note is Hart's Restaurant. The waitresses still have to wear French style uniforms. A trip to the gents leads you past the deserted upstairs ballroom. If I ever do find my way there again I'm sure I'll find the staff and patrons to be the same, and not aged. Either that or Morrissey, Alan Bennett and Thora Hird will be having lunch." Heavy overtones here of Hancock's 'The Punch & Judy Man' filmed on location in Bognor in 1962: "Bognor... was a disaster area. The trippers had stayed away in swarms... the few brave regulars, who could not quite break the habit of a lifetime, sat about in sad, usually damp, little groups... Hancock stood on the seafront at Bognor as lightning hissed and crackled overhead... Turning his face skyward he shouted, 'go on make it worse.'" [Cliff Goodwin 'When The Wind Changed' Century 1999] Bleedin' marvellous.


Oct 29 2002
Sometimes you have to look just that little bit harder. We found this lonely old Fish Bar & Kebab House quietly going about its business on the corner of Tottenham St and Whitfield St just behind Goodge St tube. The main front-section on the corner is a standard fish bar, but tucked round the side is a bolt-on mini restaurant that looks - yes, you've guessed - pretty well untouched since, oh , 1953. First off, check those chairs; square, solid, metal and drab-green leatherette. So far so good. Then the ranks of tables; plain olde worlde coverings with place settings just so. A nice touch. The eye is then drawn up up and away to the polished vinyl-wood walls... the scallop shell ceiling pattern... the period clock... the random wall plates... tiny paintings. But finally it's the dead, voided space itself that beckons; a moribund refuge in the North Soho (NoHo) hinterlands where solid 'municipal' buildings lie scattered all round, oblivious to the blanket Starbucking of central Soho. Though Charlotte St has been denuded of the grand old Venus Kebab House, the FB&KH and a handful of neighbouring 'classic' Indian and Thai joints hold on for grim life. At the going down of the sun, we will remember them. Can we also commend to your souls these still-standing Soho treasures all dotted around Old Compton St: the red-boothed Pollo, the basement chalet cabin Capucetto, the espresso-brown Centrale (where Malcolm McClaren reputedly fine-tuned 80s Burundi combo Bow Wow Wow with daily pep-talks), the Sorrentine Amalfi and the curtain-twitching cod-Italiana of the roomy Presto. God is good. Get stuck in.

Fish Bar & Kebab House Special


Oct 27 2002

Sheringham Railway Poster

After a dismal storm-lashed jaunt to Cromer in Norfolk we took off to nearby Sheringham to find a stupendous carriage cafe on a period steam-train at the Sheringham light-railway. This glory is a delighful 'utility' restaurant car decked out in full 40s Milk Bar mode. In the town itself, the Sea Breeze is typical of several joints, a parlour cafe replete with net curtains and various outdoor menu signs and close by, an anonymous eaterie with lovely fluted-wood doors and internal pink banquettes. Nearly all admirably conforming to the classic cafes table-chair-light fitting 'holy trinity'. Incidentally, though Cromer town itself will by turns depress and enchant even the most case-hardened Moribundians, the train trip to Cromer from Liverpool St is like some perfectly preserved 'Oh, Mr Porter' theme park! Glorious.

Sheringham Utility Steam Cafe
Sheringham High Street Cafes


Oct 3 2002

Alfredo's: as was on Essex Rd N1 circa 1996

Good news... After years of neglect, the amazing Alfredo's is being re-opened. The cats who own the acclaimed Sausage & Mash eaterie in Portobello have taken over this listed 20s cafe and plan to open in several weeks. We have been assured that pretty well the entire interior has been kept as was - all polished up and returned to tiptop condition. Even the grand sign from above the door (which vanished some years ago) has been tracked down. Old regulars may recall the formidable, greasy glories of the original Alfredo's dishes. We understand the menu from now on will be slightly more refined. It's a wonderful life! Bad news... the equally lovely Regent Snack Bar on Edgware Road has been demolished. We are currently looking at all the salvaged artifacts.

Regent Snack and Milk Bar Special #1


Sep 30 2002

The glorious sign that hangs over The Panda Restaurant on the Holloway Road. Though closed when the Classic Cafe heritage-time-team-and-municipal-inspectorate rolled into N7, some good honest coppering ascertained that, yes, the gaff is still open and that the interior is as desolately untouched as the frontage would suggest. This cafe is built into a pleasing 30s mansion block perfectly complementing the Deco movie-house opposite now so lovingly butchered into a multiplex by the Odeon chain. You owe it to yourself to 'swing down' to the Panda and put in a double order for 'bamboo', 'sugar cane' and 'long grass' and don't foget to tell 'em ChiChi sent you (This, we are assured by the neighbours, is sure to raise a smile!) Also of note, raw interior caff wildlife shots from darkest Shepherd's Bush - the infinitely moribund Harris's Cafe Rest on Goldhawk Road (pix by Classic Cafes undercover lensman Jim 'Mac' McIntosh.) Nature red in tooth and claw...

Panda Restaurant Special
Harris's Cafe Rest Special

Aug 29 2002


Dante: Duke St W1 (Pic: Phil Nicholls)

RIP Mar 2003 After a lightning audio appearance on Radio 4's 'Excess Baggage' travel show, Classic Cafes can now reveal the Dante in Duke St (near Grosvenor Square) in its full visual splendour. The owner is already talking about retiring so yet another little gem is set to bite the dust. But get along to it now to appreciate the Contemporary high-street charms of a real hole-in-the-wall corker before Starbucks or Benjy's violate the site. Great 50s lighting throughout; booths a-go-go; leatherette stools; dark panelled walls... Serious kit. Stroll straight in off Oxford Street after lolling about in Selfridges and order a large bacon bap.

Zita Sandwich Bar
San Siro #1
San Siro #2
Cromer - Seaside Special #1
Cromer - Seaside Special #2


July 29 2002

 Remo: RIP Weighouse St (Pic: Phil Nicholls) No updates for a while due to work commitments but unfortunately the last four months have exacted a fearsome toll. Chez Monique behind Holborn Station has had its orange formica interior stripped out in the vilest fashion. So too the great old Remo (see left). The Modern Cafe next to the Scala cinema has also been destroyed. Sad to report too the ruination of the Metro caff next to Goldhawk Rd tube. Once a rickety old Pinter-style place, the redoubtably foul-mouthed Michael who runs it has installed a dozen Edwardian drawing room tables and draped the whole place in Eritrean nick-nacks. This has to be seen to be believed - bomb-damaged Cotswold tea-house meets third-world 'Bush thrift chic. Don't miss our all new Caff History and Caff Quotes mega-sections!

Some good news: looks like Alfredo's on Essex Road N1 has been salvaged after years of neglect. It has been taken over by the Sausage and Mash restaurant chain (S&M) who, we understand, have left the beautiful old time interior pretty well alone. We shall see... A Mr Andy Lyons sends us this description of The Servewell Cafe SE16 which he feels may be of interest: "Bolted-on plastic seats. Brown and white splurge pattern table top (possibly not formica). Cream walls. One painted mirror, couple of arty b& w prints, one of a handbag, the other a rooftop view across a Modernist building, possibly South Bank. One battered old photo of a football team in a park circa 1980s, and a b&w photopcopy of the street as it was in the 40s or 50s. Turkish-run, message in Turkish hanging over the entrance to the kitchen. Mixed grill, all day breakfasts, Wimpy chart on the wall offering six types of burgers but three covered over. Cheap prices. Clientele - Turkish geezers and more local variety. Saw two prime demonstrations of the Cockney Bowl, Bermondsey variant (swaying walk, more sideways than forwards). Youngish skinhead with cut on the side of his head eating mixed grill with feverish intent. Boogie Wonderland playing on the radio when I ordered; Yes Sir, I Can Boogie on when I left. Might go there more often when I'm 55." Mr Lyons also mentions a pastime called 'soccer' and his own 'half decent' efforts to popularize the hobby. We wish him well. Meanwhile, more whizzer n' chips Classic Cafes' picture specials...

Metro - W12 Special #1
Metro - W12 Special #2
Sea Breeze - E17 Special
Coffee Cup - NW1 Special
Ferrari's - E17 Special
Perdonni's - Lambeth North Special

Caff Cavalcade #14
Caff Cavalcade #15


Mar 23 2002
"... this parlour-style cafe looks like a red-formica refugee camp for Pinter stage tramps... 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... visceral display of raw, kitchen-sink existence at the end of its tether... regulars sift through the small change of lives made moribund by decades of social marginalization... murmurs of endless, cold ossified mornings and long, atrophied afternoons haunt the wooden Victorian booths and exquisitely sad sauce-smeared tables... Britain doing what it has done best for a century - crushing and blanching the life from a populace raw from generations of managed decline... "

Tea Rooms Photo Special #1
Tea Rooms Photo Special #2


Mar 1 2002
Vic Valoti set up his brilliant cafe in the '40s when a young Audrey Hepburn used to be a regular. Until the mid 90s it remained an oasis of loud orange tiling, wonderful high backed dark green booths and Googie style light hangings. When the landlords demanded savage rent rises, the staff were forced to vacate. Another location was canvassed to rebuild the caff in, including the original furniture and fittings but the plans unfortunately came to nothing. The staff of Forbidden Planet took souvenir pictures of the place on Oct 30 1996, a few months before closure. We owe them a great debt for archiving this London treasure...

Valoti Picture Special: RIP 1996


Feb 14 2002
The magnificent Pubali Cafe was discoverd by Classic Cafes fan Mark Gould near to Westferry station on Commercial Rd. Part normal fry cafe, part basic Indian restaurant, it's one of the few London caffs to be protected by English Heritage; the frontage can't be altered since it's technically part of the listed building next door. Open every day from around 12.00 till 10.00pm - closed all day Tuesday. A moribund masterpiece. Rails Mark: "(alongside) the undertakers nearby - another listed building - the place and the staff have been embalmed (ever since) my grandad used to have a fruit and veg shop around the corner when I was a kid in the 70's. No-one has ever bought anything in Pubali or been inside the pub next door, the Star of the East. The desolate Burdett/Commercial Road crossroads is where the Docklands developers bulldozed the heart of the old dock community so that bankers and media wankers could plough onto Canary Dwarf. Charlie Brown's pub, the Blue Posts and a dozen Chinese restaurants where dockers, stevedores, brasses and the art crowd used to drink are now a flyover and a service road for Heseltine's dream..."

Pubali - Commercial Rd Special #1
Pubali - Commercial Rd Special #2
Pubali - Commercial Rd Special #3


Feb 8 2002
A current Barbican retrospective devoted to transitional British art of the 50s features this Christmas card of the period. Cafe Torino was a favoured caff for many of the art sects prevalent in the area at the time. A tiny slice of lost Soho that stands as a testament to the enduring influence of caffs on the creative life of a Britain emerging from the cultural shell-shock of WW2.

Patrick Crooke: Christmas card for Cafe Torino 1955

More hard caff reportage as we bring you this moody image of Paul Simenon... in a cafe! as well as Gilbert and George ensconced in their East London local. A shameless, uncredited partial rip-off of this site recently appeared as a broadsheet supplement asked: "Are (cafes) destined always to fulfill their role in the popular imagination as the haunt of the lonely, the lorry driver and the little old lady? Or are they a genuine and valuable part of British urban culture... Today traditional family-run caffs are sometimes dismissed as greasy spoons. But in an age of ubiquitous Starbucks, Costas and the inevitable McDonalds, these temples to the all-day breakfast are surviving and thriving... windows streaming with the condensation from warm bodies, damp overcoats and steaming mugs of tea." Surviving and thriving? That'll be why dozens are shutting each year, no doubt. Anyway, if the tenor of all this sounds a little familiar, just look back at the intro/history pages of this site. Nice to see Classic Cafes' low level attempts at cultural engineering paying off though.

Caff Cavalcade #13: The Popular Cafe

Jan 9 2002
Almunecar is a not-overly developed resort with a sub-tropical climate about 90km from Malaga and lying at the foot of the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains. This Spanish caff special - taken in Winter - 2001 - shows a classic European coffee-lounge: paneled interiors; a '50s typographic flourish on the outside awnings; old style swivel seats and a nifty covered section outside with orange stripped sun-guard... Head for: Cafeteria Al Quiros, Paseo del Altillo, 1, Almuñécar 18690, Granada, Spain

Andalucian caff special


Jan 5 2002

Terrible news that The York Gate Cafe in Broadstairs has been 'redeveloped.' Fiona Morrissey writes to say: 'We visited Broadstairs today... too late to experience the glory of the York Gate: through the white smeared windows I spied that the place has been completely gutted. I felt so angry at such lack of pride in our cafe culture. English Heritage and other groups only seems concerned with preserving stately homes and gardens, while corner cafes and pubs are laid to waste.' In April 2001 Mr Jan Siegieda informed us: 'The current owner has passed the lease over to Thorley Taverns Ltd... Rumours are circulating that they propose to convert the York Gate Cafe into a wine bar...' We advised Mr Siegieda immediately how to make an emergency application to English Heritage but the process is fraught with problems. As for Thorley Taverns, a plague on all their houses...

York Gate Cafe Interiors
Caff Cavalcade #12: The Vernasca


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