Site News: 2001

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Dec 16 2001
Ross MacFarlane writes to say: 'Just a quick shout to say Classic Cafes is a great site - amazed by the amount of detail you've got going there. Thought I'd pass on this link; it's an article from the lead singer of Scottish band Belle & Sebastian lamenting the loss of his favourite cafe in Glasgow.' And more on the lamentation front... a new caff cavalcade of largely ruined Soho cafes. Several years ago all of these had perfectly decent interiors. Today, as the Benjy-fication of central London eateries continues unabated, only Kingly Street's Valtaro is worth a qualified visit. NEW: Click here for an illustration we found lurking in the online portfolio of one Justine Beckett and based on part of the Classic Cafes site. Also... a hot new picture special is being prepared for New Year based on recently acquired snaps of the wonderful old Valotti cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. This legendary enclave on the verges of Soho was once frequented by a young Audrey Hepburn but vanished years ago when the leases expired. We have tracked down not only many pictures of the place but also two key staff. We hope to run a full interview with owner Rick Valotti and the wonderful Myrka alongside the photo-spread soon. Unmissable. Unforgettable. Unprecedented!

Caff Cavalcade #11


Nov 30 2001

This 1914 painting by William Ratcliffe hangs in Southampton's City Art Gallery/Bridgeman. The print is reproduced in Peter Ackroyd's monumental recent historical study 'London: The Biography'. Titled 'The Coffee House', Ackroyd's caption to the picture tellingly reads: 'despite its colourful interior, (the cafe) conveys a characteristic melancholy and anonymity.' Making this possibly one of the first tangible incarnations of Britannia Moribundia. To this day, The Tea Rooms caff near the British Museum remains spookily similar in terms of decor... and clientele.

Caff Cavalcade #10
Caff Cavalcade #09

Caff Cavalcade #08


Nov 14 2001


Rossi's Coffee Lounge, Westcliff on Sea


The magnificent Rossi's Coffee Lounge in Westcliff on Sea - a superb little seaside suburb just between Leigh on Sea and Southend in Essex. This area is great for moribund-high street action, packed with odd bookshops, thrift stores and old family retailers of all stripes. In the background, above the Rossi, is the 'moderne' styled Cliffs Pavilion, a sizable early 60s arts centre (now somewhat remodelled) located on the landscaped gardens which rise up behind this shrine of Light Refreshment. Wistful views over Southend pier and an exterior/interior combination untroubled for half a century should put this profound masterpiece of wicker, leatherette and lime green formica high on your hitlist! Twentieth Century society in all its bracing contemporary brio. In January 2003, local Rossi fan Helen Salkin wrote to tell us: "...the new owners/managers have chucked out the original green Lloyd Loom chairs and matching marble-topped tables, does still have various tiled labels such as ICES and SUNDRIES... around 20 years ago, the council threatened Mr Rossi with closure on the grounds that the cliff was collapsing behind his cafe."

Westcliff-on-Sea special #1
Westcliff-on-Sea special #2


Nov 4 2001
Concerned readers have contacted us asking: "What's all this Moribundia malarkey? Where are the middle-brow spreads in The Sunday Times? Are there tie-in trainers? Is Jarvis fully appraised? How can we help?"

Let us be clear, Britannia Moribundia is part rallying cry, part counsel of despair. Britannia Moribundia posits a national malaise of ongoing managed-decline in a country riven with shattered public services and consumed with social psoriasis. Britannia Moribundia upholds the benighted alt.architectural austerity fag-ends that we feel most pointedly embody these worn values... We Luv 1951.

Note, we have two more additions to our burgeoning Moribundia section...A fine piece in The Standard about a magical lost shop in Kentish Town: 'Blustons, an old-fashioned dress shop... The lino floors; the electric bar heaters; the sewing machine that was second-hand when the owner's grandparents bought it in the early 1900s; the jazzy pine-effect wallpaper that creates a bizarre faux-Scandinavian wainscoting. If English Heritage had any sense it would slap a preservation on the place immediately. Then there is the window display. The recessed double-fronted layout with its glassed-in units creates a mini-arcade... The homogenisation of our high streets is a crime against our culture.' And... the deceased Head of the Church of Satan Anton La Vey (The Black Pope) musing on the supranatural power of the forlorn environment: "The word 'occult' simply means hidden or secret... Go to the record store, to the corner where no one else is, where everything is dusty and nobody ever goes... If there's anything, any frequency, any power that exists anywhere in this cosmos, in this universe, (it is there) you're gonna stand out like a beacon! It truly makes you elite."

Coming soon... 'Moribundia on Sea - The Essex Connection.' A caff cavalcade of Wescliffe and Leigh on Sea treasures. It will amaze ye!


Oct 21 2001
Picking up on this site's two years' worth of campaigning and propagandising, at last proof positive a looming mainstream media caff-cult is starting as evinced by a clutch of recent Evening Standard links: one about the endless corrosive effects of Starbucks-style coffee bars entitled links Greasy Spoons v Culture Cafes; the other, a day in the life of the family owner of London's top cafe of all time Pellicci's. Pellicci also figures in the ES 'top 50 hip list': "Where are hippest spots in town? Where should you be seen? Where should you shop? ... No. 23 Pellicci's cafe: With its Formica tables, Fifties fittings and traditional grub, Pellicci's is full of retro charm. Go on a Saturday morning and you'll find arty, post-party twentysomethings and locals Steven Berkoff, Gilbert and George. 332 Bethnal Green Road, E2 (020 7739 4873)." Ruination! Also, a note from Classic Cafes aficionado J. Fulgoni re: 'A great caff resource is a book called Lime, Lemon and Sarsaparilla by Colin Hughes (now sadly out of print - but being republished in April 2002) which details the history of the Italian Cafe-based community in Wales. This community is closely related to the London one (being) largely from Bedonia and Borgotaro (in the valley of Val Taro) about 20 miles from Bardi. The book has a great map of the Italian cafes in Wales... there are still at least 18 Italian cafes in Pontypridd/Rhondda which would be a reasonable twelve mile driving tour.'


'Greasy Spoons v Culture Cafes' by Nick Curtis [Evening Standard 2001]

"The corner caff is a cornerstone of London life. Usually a family concern, it is run more often than not by Italian immigrants who lavish the same loving care on their chips as on their customers. Never mind the poor, tired shoppers of Knightsbridge: the caff is a haven for everyone who wants a sausage sandwich or a plate of spag bol at 5.30am. There, office workers and lawyers rub shoulders with builders and cabbies - now that's a cosmopolitan atmosphere. If you've got an early start in the morning, or a crippling hangover, nothing else will do... Caffs, though they will never face extinction, are a dwindling species as high rents, competition and the dying concept of family ownership force many out of business. They are the red squirrels of the restaurant world, threatened by a tide of grey uniformity. Just as Happy Eaters and Little Chefs have almost exterminated the motorway caff, so wipe-clean chains such as Costa, Pret A Manger and Starbucks are slowly colonising the London caff's urban habitat. But as long as there's a brickie to be fed, or a beer-headache to be slaked, the London caff must survive...

Muratori, 162 Farringdon Road, EC1 (020 7837 4015), open Mon-Fri 7am-5.30pm, Sat 7-11.30am.
A favourite hang-out with taxi drivers, Muratori doesn't lack atmosphere, and manageress Giuliana Muratori has no doubt as to the most important ingredient for a successful caff: "Noise!" One can imagine the heated debates that occur when a cabby voices an illiberal opinion next to a worker from Amnesty International, whose offices are next door. The café was set up by Giuliana's father, who came over from Parma in the 1960s, and it's been on a (bacon) roll ever since. All the food is home-made, and Muratori is yet to feel the pinch of competition. "There are loads of cappuccino places nearby, but it hasn't affected the cab drivers," says Giuliana. "Most builders don't want a croissant."

Borough Cafe, 11 Park Street, SE1 (020 7407 5048), open Mon-Sat 4.30am-4pm.
This tiny, defiantly old-fashioned local fry-up joint has been written up everywhere, from the New York Times to the German gourmet magazine Feinschmecker. Marianzena Moruzzi and her mother Amalia (known to everyone as Mama) believe that "the customers make a café" and keep up a torrent of good-humoured banter with their regulars. The ladies are famous for their bubble-and-squeak, and were called in to cook up a sample to be fed to American tourists on Newsroom Southeast after Gwyneth Paltrow dissed the dish. Mama remembers serving the porters of Borough Market when she first came over from Parma, and the café's counter was made of apple crates: today, the clientele ranges from dustmen to priests to Sean Connery. On his way out, an insurance ombudsman proposes marriage to Marianzena and gets a good-natured earful in return. The café is threatened by Railtrack's plans to broaden the nearby railway line, which would be a crime against history and good food.

E Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Road, E2 (020 7739 4873), open Mon-Sat 6.30am-5pm.
This venerable café has an intricate marquetry interior crafted by Achille Capocci in 1946, as well as a distinctly homey atmosphere. "Because we're all family we love working here," says Anna Pellicci. "My grandparents came over from Lucca in Tuscany and set up the restaurant nearly 100 years ago. My dad was born upstairs. That all adds to the ambience." Anna's mother Maria is in the kitchen at 5am each morning preparing sauces, and her cousin Tony "has been a fixture for 35 years". Two more fixtures, during the 1960s, were the Kray twins, who put their East-End seal of approval on the place. Nowadays, there are more German and Italian tourists than gangsters at the tables, but some traditions persist. "Bob the taxi driver still comes in for a breakfast of spaghetti bolognese at 5.30am every Saturday," says Anna. As Charles Campion says: "Any breakfast good enough for the Kray brothers should be good enough to conquer Europe."


Sep 12 2001
Moribundia mon amour: "We're in for a dire decade... (Britain is) a place of seedy, comfortable decline, of clubbable anger and unfinished crossword puzzles, of splenetic punning letters to the editor about the decline in grammar... A country scratching a lazy irritation at sagging doorjambs and late trains, whose greatest attribute is a collective, smelly tolerance... A country of public insouciance and private, grubby guilt, where you can believe anything as long as you don't believe it too fervently. A country where the highest aspiration is for a quiet life..." AA Gill: Sunday Times Sept 9 2001 For the full piece click here. Also just in, new picture files from London & Europe...

Caff Cavalcade #07
Caff Cavalcade #06


Sep 9 2001
Lots more links info added about US vernacular diner architecture: 'The quintessential diner is a small, family-owned establishment which serves no more than about 50 people at one time. Counter seating is essential and this configuration makes the diner more than just a place to eat. A diner is also a place for conversation, a community center in some ways. There are a number of characteristics which many diners share. Most are open 24 hours a day and serve breakfast for the whole time. Most serve coffee as a staple. Suburban diners usually cater to old folks or school kids. Highway diners serve the needs of travelers and truckers; two groups which may need sustenance (and especially coffee) at any hour of day or night... If in doubt, look for speckled formica, linoleum, stainless steel and moldy wood. Chances are, if you find all of them in the same eating establishment, you've found yourself a genuine diner.' Amen to that!


Sep 1 2001
A new selection of atmospheric caff pictures by Phil Nicholls taken at various London locations last year will be filtering onto the site. A gallery of the images at their original print size is being prepared and will go online shortly. Phil is possibly best known for his work at 'Melody Maker' during the 90s where his portraiture set the standard for the entire music press of the time. His work has also appeared in 'Blitz' and 'Vogue' and numerous broadsheets. More recently he's worked closely with the Tindersticks on the majority of their LP releases. A major retrospective of his work was previewed at Belgium's 'Botanique' centre this summer to wide-ranging European acclaim.


Aug 19 2001
NEW Worthing seaside special! Worthing has just enough alt.architecture diversions to justify a couple of visits. This English seaside leftover seems to have been pretty well ignored since Harold Pinter briefly and inexplicably came there for a year in the early 60s: "He moved to the Regency house in the... sedate, cosily geriatric environment... of Worthing in 1963, where he wrote the script for The Pumpkin Eater for Columbia Pictures and The Homecoming for the RSC... 'it was a rather lovely house (says Pinter) bow fronted... in the only part of Worthing that is really attractive, a street called Ambrose Place very close to the Connaught Theatre...' " Rather too much vicious 70s building has disfigured the place - especially around the stomach-churning northern part of the town by the station. On no account miss the majestic Connaught Corner House cafe opposite the pier - a fantasy of green leatherette, old-time ceiling fans, marbelised walls, dinky hanging lamps and fine service. Avoid both the mustard-coloured Macari's ice cream parlours - their only interest lies in the counter signage but the owners refused point blank to allow us to take any pictures... so we rattled 'em off any way! Other good caffs: one green one with neat booths and suitably decrepit interior right opposite the train station and a couple of other winners tucked down side-streets around the town centre. Check out the Edwardian seafront cinema and the Deco Connaught Theatre too.

Worthing special #1
Worthing special #2
Worthing special #3


Jul 28 2001
A lovely quote about the moral evils of caff culture by Richard Hoggart British cultural critic and co-founder of the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies in The Uses of Literacy (1957.) Hoggart celebrates the working-class Hunslett area of Leeds but at the same time criticises 1950s popular culture because it is: "full of corrupt brightness, of improper appeals and moral evasions". He particularly attacks "milk bars", in which he believed he could detect: "a sort of spiritual dry-rot amid the odour of boiled milk... The hedonistic but passive barbarian who rides in a fifty horse power bus for threepence, to see a five-million dollar film for one-and-eightpence, is not simply a social oddity; he is a portent."

Staying on the coffee bar trail, memories here of West of London circa 1969-71[Richmond, Twickenham, Kingston] from a 'Mr Weed' with his stories of L'Auberge Cafe on the legendary ex-Mod centre Eel Pie Island where Pete Townsend now lives. You may have to click around his site a bit, but it's quite well marked.


Jun 23 2001
Not sure if this site has been included somehow in the national curriculum but we have had dozens of requests from 'O' Level students doing graphics courses asking for research materials to be made available and advice to be dispensed. Apart from the masses of stuff over the last year that we have still to filter online and feature, all the caff material is on this very site. NB: If using content from "Britain's finest alt.architecture resource" please first inform us first of the project for our own records and please do credit the site in any work and cite the full URL. Those wanting to dig deeper into the architectural background should contact the archives at The Museum of London or check out our resources pages and track the titles there at the new British Library. Old copies of 'Hotel and Caterer' magazine from the 50s & 60s have many pages of ads that might be helpful - although their archives are out in the stix. We also highly recommend a trip to the magnificently refurbished Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch [Liverpool St tube then bus] to see their modern period displays and archives. The bookshop at the Royal Institute of British Architects [RIBA] is also full of wonderful things and the building itself round from Langham Place - behind the BBC - is one of the wonders of London built in 30s high style with regular exhibitions.


Jul 10 2001
This just in, green shoots of recovery and reclamation down Sussex way: "Hello - your web-site is great. I've recently opened my own small tribute to the classic coffee bar of the late 50's/early 60's in Brighton - the Off-Beat Coffee Bar - at 37 Sydney Street in the North Laine. Brighton was sadly lacking in any formica cafes despite having had loads of them in the past so I decided to open my own. Outside of Brighton, Worthing has an excellent example of the classic seaside cafe in Macari's which is on the seafront virtually opposite the pier (there's also one in Eastbourne.) It's got about 20 booths and has the yellowing pictures of various ice-cream combinations along the length of one wall which are obligatory in any decent ice-cream parlour. [Sharon Thomas]" Be sure to head to the South Coast this summer to recce all these fine establishments. Also as promised, more sweet memories from the archives...

Caff Cavalcade #05
Caff Cavalcade #04


Jul 8 2001
At a time of constant bad news on the caff front [see West One obituary in Lost Cafes] and with chrome hellholes like Benjy's - truly the Stringfellows of fast food - proliferating everywhere, it's very good indeed to be able to report freshly chanced-upon new/old joints like Bar Central [4 Bernard St WC1]. Almost next to Russell Sq tube this caff's pleasing exterior gives little indication of the magnificent suspended moderne ceiling work inside. Six good leatherette booths make up the seating area and the counter accoutrements are top notch. A smart little local place handy for the Renoir art cinema and Skoob books both located in the brutalist maze of the Russell flat complex opposite. Also close by is one of the most amazing deco buildings in London - once a garage and now the headquarters of an ad agency. A brief mention too for the useful, if almost invisible, Valtaro [Kingly Street WC1] behind Liberty's in Oxford St. As a back-up for the West One this just about suffices: decent booths, nice menu, excruciatingly slow and grudging service from London's most downcast caff owner... but the lack of atmosphere makes us yearn all the more for the happy days of Wells St.

As the nation's leading - it's that USP again - alt.architecture site, we're often asked: "How about a map with the exact location of each caff - what about a search function?" Well, part of the mood that appeals about these places is finding them by accident, the not-noticed quality is something we very much want to preserve. Most street locations are given anyway, just walk up and down and keep your eyes open. Also... the rate of attrition is accelerating each year so by the time you try to look out a particular place it's likely to have been demolished anyway. Furthermore, by raving about the Pellicci in Bethnal Green so much we've found the place overflowing of late with undesirables disrespectfully noncing about with mobiles, iMac sized trainers and 'Hoxton-Fins' [Travis-lead-singer-haircut.] Come back Reg n' Ron! Because of this, the whole site must now be maintained on a need-to-know basis via Masonic levels of clique-ishness. For God's sake, tell no-one what you see...


May 23 2001
Click here for a couple of illustrations that have found their way to the site. Ron Godwin will be providing us with a number of paintings and illustrations in the months to come. Godwin is a painter working in oil, acrylic and watercolour best known for his pellucid estuaryscapes and beach vistas in the West country. Although largely a marine painter he also constantly paints the city using a Pochade box, mostly in situ. He has been a regular exhibitor at The Royal Society of Marine Artists since 1970. His works are held now in many private collections. The portrait of 50s London literary legend (and 'Absolute Beginners' author) Colin Macinnes sitting in his favourite caff comes from the front cover of his collection of essays "England Half English" - first published 1961. Also stills of the famous 2is Coffee Bar in 50s Soho that served as a launch point for many bands and singers of the time and which Macinees would often namecheck in his essays and journalism.


Apr 23 2001

See Pellicci's and Die! A first visit to the mighty Pellicci on Bethnal Green Rd since the interior was burnt out last year [see above] reveals the entire place much improved. All the intricate early-century woodworking and even the stained glass lead work on some of the interior doors has been replaced to perfection. Every last strip of Vitrolite, marquetry and formica has been lovingly burnished and restored. The old signed pic of Steven Berkoff is up on the wall and all seems right with the world. The ever solicitous Pellicci family are back and serving in fine fettle and the place is rammed. Through the serving hatch at the rear it seems as if the kitchen space has been significantly increased, but otherwise it's business as usual. And what a business. On a Saturday it pays to get down early to secure a seat. Within months there will be queues around the block. Only one problem - the new denizens of this master caff all seem to be graphic designers, supermodels and trendy vicars. Long term visitors to this site will know that we take a very dim view of this kind of new blood - as we do about almost anything that impacts upon our strict pre-'70s Little Englander mindset. Oh, for the flimsy pensioners and truculent barrow boys of yesteryear - whither the legions of faint hearted English whimsy? Either the gentrification of the area has forged ahead in the last 10 months or Classic Cafes has a greater congregation and reach than previously imagined. Forget The Dome, forget Tate Modern... here's where you can see the pale fire of Britannia Moribundia sputtering most markedly. The Pellicci refit has set the standard by which all others must be judged. Could there possibly be a better start to the century? And if you get down fast enough, this legendary caff is giving away pocket souvenir cards to mark its rising from the ashes. Speed the plough!


Apr 22 2001
A jaunty NEW section called Caff Cavalcade will be located here as a way of randomly complementing our other gallery area devoted to the ins and outs of cafe architecture. Tiresomely irregular additions will be bolted on as and when. But for now...

Caff Cavalcade #01
Caff Cavalcade #02
Caff Cavalcade #03

Also NEW in this section... under no circumstances should you miss our insightful picture specials on Frank's Diner in Olympia; the lovely RendezVous in Maddox St and a mawkish Stairway to Moribundia - Anchorites Away special! They don't come much more otiose than this. New increasingly 'special' panels will be updated on a semi-regular basis. Catch 'em if you can.


Mar 10 2001
A selective behind-the-scenes re-code has been done to stop various table problems PC users were having with the layout of certain sections. Apologies to any visitors coming to the site from Wintel/non-Mac machines. Seems like version 4.5+ browsers for Macs are a lot more forgiving of mangled tags than their Windows counterparts. Thanks to everyone who mailed in suggestions. The problems should all now be fixed. Since this site is only tested on Macs - we have no access to PCs - we're grateful for any tech-nerd web-monkey criticism we can get. We must just point out a superb new site called Psychogeography.Co.Uk This stunning and streamlined resource is a must for those addicted to mapping the myriad conceptual contours of the modern metropolis. No point denying either our envy of their elegantly lo-fi design which puts Classic Cafes to shame - no wayward html here! A curatorial gem.


Feb 17 2001
A few more decent places have been unearthed in the last month. The Bonbonniere Restaurant is exceedingly central, just opposite Debenhams in Oxford St in Woodstock St. This has a somewhat offputting neon sign but the interior has the feel of some sort of large Sorrentine ice-cream parlour with a big tiled sea-faring mural at the very back of a sizeable floorspace. More of a lost restaurant than cafe, it's really the spaciousness and seried ranks of nice nut brown tables and chairs [and the pretty wall lamps] which make this such a comfort zone. There's a touch of the curtain-twitchers about this one which we like but a draconian 'minimum charge' policy and punitive 'no cheques or credit card payments under £10' rule puts it beyond the true caff pale. A pity - this place has real potential and a sense of history. A pleasing sister eaterie used to exist some years ago in Carnaby St but has since been brutally Starbucked. Another flawed masterpiece...Mama's is a potentially fine local find right on the lower end of the noxious Waterloo Rd as it voids into the Elephant and Castle. This utility-build worthy has interesting high backed grey booth seats, solid tables, good counter-space and corking plain wall coverings. Unfortunately it is also solid with extravagantly flatulent building crews whose sulphuric tabloid intake and relentless phatic communions make for a less than congenial atmosphere. One for the Brian Sewell in us all.


Jan 25 2001
Hotel Moribundia 1 picture special. A new find for the site which deserves wider recognition - but which we are going to cloak in secrecy anyway. This is a lost hotel bar somewhat akin to the infamous Colony Rooms drinking club in Soho beloved of Francis Bacon. It probably won't last long but we include it here because it encompasses all the shabby, outcast virtues of Incidental England: the rooms are splendidly desolate; the clientele are all anchoretic lost souls and the ambience is as inactive as the smudged old bar counter itself. Perfection. We offer up this picture special as an object lesson in top notch drab. See also Hotel Moribundia 2 - Stairway to Moribundia featuring another secret hotel bar of particular splendour in long-gone Euston.


Jan 21 2001
New Piccadilly photo special - lots more shots of the fabulous New Picc interior that must have launched a thousand imitators throughout the 60s. This is the one to aspire to - The Titanic of cafes! An interview with the owners is in planning and we'll probably try to get another bunch of pictures of all the smaller details from the premises.


Jan 14 2001
NEW Palma interior specials - Palma #1 & Palma #2. Also, exteriors Palma #3; a brace of hot new premises - Scotti's & The St John's Cafe - spotted round town; Julie Burchill's Eastbourne Moribundia epiphany.s


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