Site News: 2003

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The New Rock n' Roll

Dec 13 2003

Rosa's, Hanbury St E1
Bud Flanagan once lived above the shop but this is now a pleasant left-alone relic selling awesomely cheap food and featuring a vaudeville shrine in one corner and signed Gilbert and George ephemera in the other. A leaded window frontage (check the two lovely signs and the blue plaque!), excellent two-tone grey Formica walling, good white mug sets and great orange pendant lamps hanging from a fake Vitrolite ceiling make up a great caff package. Overall the quality and atmospherics are splendid. Note: Rosa's is right next to Rossi's cafe which was massacred internally some years ago but which used to be a hangout decades ago for legendary Spitalfield's mysterioso David Rodinsky who vanished from his rooms at the little synagogue in Princelet Street... Rosa's E1 Special


Nov 16 2003

Sea Breeze E17 RIP Nov 2003

This little gem used to be stuck up at the top of Walthamstow market (as did several useful caffs now lost over the years.) Behind the etched glass door lay a fantasia of Formica: large brown booth seats looking vaguely space-aged; large coloured Mondrian panels on every surface; superb wooden light fittings... a real live working and breathing classic in the heart of E17. Now shamefully replaced with a wretched fried chicken outlet.

Sea Breeze E17 Special #1
Sea Breeze E17 Special #2


Nov 6 2003

"Tevere is [a chalet-style caff] on the junction of Marsham St and Great Peter St in Westminster. All milk chocolate brown inside - dark wood panels and grey net curtains - the waitresses are black-clad Roman ladies always just slightly annoyed at your very existence. Punters are House of Commons researchers sobbing over their MP's infidelities, grumbling hacks and passed-over civil servants in shiny suits gossiping and grinding their teeth. A moribund masterpiece. And the tea is nice." (Mark Gould)

Tevere SW1P Special

Nov 5 2003

Golden Fish, Farringdon Road EC1: Eleonora Ruocco's cosy familial Italian cafe, opposite Mount Pleasant post office is also half of a fish and chip shop. The dainty interior, with its ranks of 1940s rosewood booths with metal arms (very like those in The Copper Grill), is one of the loveliest in London. The lone antique hatstand by the door always brings a lump to the throat.

Golden Fish Special #1
Golden Fish Special #2


Oct 28 2003

Famed for serving some of the best ice cream in the country, Giulian Alonzi's Harbour Bar in Sandside, Scarborough is almost unaltered since opening in 1945. With decor described by The Times as, "a sunburst of yellow and white, a banana split recreated in Formica" the walls are lined with mirrors and slogans 'Get your vitamins the easy way', 'Eat ice cream every day.'" The Alonzi's settled in Scarborough in 1896 and the old milk bar is thriving. Says Giulian: "We're busy all winter here. In the summer, people come to enjoy themselves. In winter, they come to enjoy the place."

The Harbour Bar is possibly the best preserved Milk Bar left in Britain. Alongside Lyons Corner Houses, the milk bars of the 1930s defined the look of cafes for decades to come. The first one in the UK was set up in 1935 in Fleet Street by an Australian, Hugh D McIntosh; within a year there were 420 throughout Britain with this number trebling into the 1940s. They were often fitted into redeveloped Victorian or Edwardian buildings with intimate individual booths and a bar running the length of the room. Streamlined moderne styling figured large in these commercial interiors and a popular new material called Vitrolite became de rigeur when fitting them out. This coloured glass could be easily moulded, laminated and illuminated and large panels of it often decorated milk bars. But the glossy style drew fire from an older generation concerned this new populist culture was providing the youth with little more than an unvaried diet of sensation: "the milk bars indicate at once, in the nastiness of their modernistic knick-knacks, their glaring showiness, an aesthetic breakdown".

Harbour Bar Special

Oct 18 2003

Along with L Rodi E17 (below) and The Koffi Pot, Welling (also below), The Gambardella
(Vanbrugh Park, E3) is the most exciting classic cafe find this year.
Run by the same family right
from its opening day over a half-century ago, this is possibly the most hidden cafe gem in all of London ­ lost in the Blackheath Standard area at the top of Greenwich Park. (The only way to get
there is via a circuitous bus route from Greenwich town centre). The building dates from the 1930s, but the unique moulded plywood revolving chairs were installed during the 1960s. The two
sections of the cafe form an entire history of the genre: the front room is early 20th Century deco
with amazing flesh-coloured Vitrolite and chrome; the back section is mid-century Festival of
Britain in red and black Formica. And don't miss the silver deco clock, the tile-floor parlour, the
100 year old fridge and the nifty old wall heaters. A masterpiece.

Gambardella picture special #1
Gambardella picture special #2
Gambardella picture special #3

Oct 17 2003

L. Rodi, Blackhorse Lane, E17
L. Rodi's has been with the same family since 1925. The frontage is somewhat altered (thought the excellent 'L. Rodi Light Refreshment' sign is untouched) but the front room is a fantasy of marble-mint Formica set under sparkling Vitrolite; chrome edged tables are packed tight opposite an original counter with a giant old English Electric fridge at the back; the upper walls are lined with authentic 1950s tobacco posters. The back room is a veritable caff museum: lined with emerald and off-white tiles; Victorian marble tables; a working grandfather clock that still chimes the hours; black-lacquer bentwood coathangers; framed menus from the past and beaten-silver signs embossed with the words 'Teas' and 'Suppers'. The place has barely changed in a century. Overwhelming. Emotional. Essential.
L. Rodi E17 Special


Oct 16 2003

The Koffi Pot, Welling High Street, Welling

The Koffi Pot, Welling
Originally owned by an Italian family called the Feraras, this much-loved local dates from the 1930s and retains an unusual and extensive collection of coffee pots ­ all sizes, shapes and colours ­ displayed on a long shelf over the counter. The outside sign boasts 'Builders Breakfasts Horlicks and Bovril'. The large interior is a fantasia of lustrous frosted lemon and lime opaque glass, set off with original ceiling fans, neon strip lights and beautiful old fashioned stick-on-letter wall menus. Truly, a Valhalla in Vitrolite for classic cafes fans. (In 2001, director Mike Leigh shot a couple of scenes at the Koffi Pot for his film All or Nothing.) Pictures by: Claude Moreira.

The Koffi Pot Special

Aug 27 2003

No apologies for, yet again, running more photos of the sterling Rossi Ice Cream and
Refreshment lounge in Westcliff on Sea. This great institution still pulls in hundreds of
customers all day every day and never more so than during bank holidays - which is when
Classic Cafes made this run up to the foothills of Essex to capture Rossi's recent makeover.
Bad news: all the Lloyd Loom chairs have gone. Good news: the new blue colour scheme
is nearly as good as the old green one... 'The original Rossi, for you.' Click here to see
the real Classic Cafe ­ also in Westcliff.

Rossi's Bank Holiday Special


Aug 18 2003

Bloomsbury Restaurant, Brunswick Centre
The Brunswick Centre is a vast, brutalist housing estate slap in the centre of London opposite the Russell Square tube station. Arranged in a series of stepped apartment complexes, the entire block has fallen into the sort of cataclysmic disrepair that is endemic amongst British inner-city housing projects: a cluster of 'windswept' concourses; boarded up shops and, of course, the obligatory 'community' artists walk-in centre. The Bloomsbury Restaurant inside it has some redeeming internal features. Though the fake brick wallpaper is repellent, the booth seating at the back is cheerfully redolent of some lost motorway caff circa 1968. It's also open seven days a week with a choice of cheap grills.
Bloomsbury Restaurant special

Jul 30 2003

Presto Restaurant: 4-6 Old Compton St W1 Soho

RIP Nov 2003 A longstanding Soho haunt of filmmaker/artist Derek Jarman, the Presto in Old Compton Street was ignored for decades by diners flocking to the nearby Pollo and Centrale cafes. Unfair. Presto had a startling orange and turquoise interior and alcoves filed with mediterranean ('think Rimini '61') tat. Given its window-on-the-world setting, it was also very cheap... Wantonly destroyed on 10 Nov 2003, the original fixtures and fittings lay in piles on the street like discarded firewood. Truly heartbreaking. Presto Special

Jun 30 2003

Independent on Sunday: 15 June 2003

The New Piccadilly has everything that might convince you that beyond its cosy interior is a world in which Harold MacMillan is Prime Minister, Lady Chatterley is banned and Russ Conway's Warsaw Concerto is serious music.

The pink enamel backing of the espresso-maker, the Festival of Britain-era squiggles on the Formica table-tops, the glass frothy-coffee cups (all originals, no reproductions), the twist of neon forming the glowing word EATS: little has altered in this Soho institution since it served its first plate of spaghetti half a century ago. Little, that is, except the clientele.

"I've seen 50 years of change in this place," says the proprietor, Lorenzo Marioni, whose late father, Pietro, founded the joint in 1951. "People and their mannerisms, attitudes, clothes. But the buzz is no longer around Piccadilly. We're a bit of a backwater here." More....


Jun 11 2003
Pensio Can Julian is a favourite haunt of ours in Sitges - an enduringly pleasant resort just down the coast from Barcelona. Can Julian is almost invisible at the top of Avgda. Artur Carbonell but you'll spot it by the small part-Deco chrome doorway. Inside the bar and cafe look like an old 1950s Spanish home: caramel coloured chairs and tables everywhere, odd junk shop family paintings, clocks and lights on all the walls and US diner stools at the bar. Follow the cramped stairway in the corner and you're taken up to an engagingly weathered and dusty hotel area. NB: Nearby is the oldest cafe/bar in Sitges, Bar Xatet (picture special to follow) on Carrer St Francesc which dates from the 1920s. Here the walls are thick with sketches, photo-memorabilia, staff portraits and paintings; the ceiling bursting with thick hanging hams; the small floorspace packed with dainty black lacquered chairs and zinc-top marble tables. Classic cafes go continental!

Pensio Can Julian Special #1
Pensio Can Julian Special #2

Jun 8 2003
Sunday Times review of Classic Cafes:
"Brilliant: When Starbucks fatigue takes hold, Fiona Sibley seeks solace at the brilliant The humble British caff has long been thought of as drab, sad and a bit cheap. But this labour-of-love website revels in the character of London's greasy spoons, finding glamour in their seediness and hailing the finest enclaves of Formica, leatherette and chrome as design classics. In an extensive cafeography, 100 reviews transport us to the heart of these oft-forgotten haunts, ranked in three categories: Specials, Always Availablesor Side Orders. Cafe legend will delight the cultural treasure-hunter - the Krays regularly castigated customers for swearing at Pellicci's, in Bethnal Green, while Alfredo's, in Islington, played a starring role in the cult film Quadrophenia. Complementing these scraps of information are critiques on the cafe's importance in what it calls urban 'psychogeography - the hidden landscape of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters that charge environments'. The site's design is strictly utilitarian, and links, casually dropped into paragraphs, are judiciously deployed. Classic Cafes has a cosy, coffee-scented feel. Sadly, however, the news section is crowded with all too regular announcements of closures, often as a result of empire expansion by the coffee multinationals, which should buoy our enthusiasm for the few precious survivors."


May 28 2003

RIP: Borough Cafe, SE1

Long-time local favourite The Borough Cafe, Park St, SE1 closes Fri 13 June. The distinguished red frontage hid a largely unremarkable interior but clientele included Nigel Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Danny Baker and Michael Nyman. The caff's reputation garnered press cuttings from around the world - including the New York Times. Regulars will fondly remember the tiny tiled kitchen-space piled with charcoal-flecked bubble and squeak, the bashed pans of beans glugging like tar-pit lava and the sleepy cat curled up in a cardboard box on the streaming window sill. Maria, the owner, is taking some time out and then setting up a three day week portakabin operation in the market.

Borough Cafe Reportage Special

May 7 2003
Daniel Lucas emails us to point out this coastal gem: 'I can highly recommend Brucciani's in Morecambe (and I am told there is another branch in Preston but I have not visited that.) Superb wood paneling, original red Formica tables, tasty food... don't visit the north west without taking it in... (Here's) a bit from an Observer article on Morecambe by Kathryn Flett: 'Can Morecambe really be the most depressed place in Britain?... things look up rather faster than I expect as soon as I stumble across P. Brucciani, purveyors of award-winning Ice-cream, tea, coffee and snacks. With its red formica tables, linoleum and acid-etched glass Venetian scene, Brucciani's is a perfectly preserved slice of the 1930s that Gill would surely recognise. If this were Brighton it would he abuzz with earnest conversation over Penguin classics and the fog of a million Marlboros. But this is Morecambe and there is only me, six septuagenarians in pacamacs and even though it is run by Italians, there is no espresso machine. Despite this, it is heaven.'

Daniel also recommends: '... an interesting cafe around the back of Oxford Railway Station (come out of station towards the right, then turn right go under railway bridge and it is on the right near the corner of Cripley Road and Botley Road). The building is essentially a large wooden hut / shed with the kitchen area towards the back, seating in the front... not a full 50s cafe, being of older origin (I think it started life as a 1920s tea room), but it does have an air of authenticity and is a welcome relief from the chain coffee shops and twee tea rooms that overpopulate Oxford city centre.'

Apr 4 2003
Loads more 'caffs on film' added to the TV & Film section...


Mar 25 2003

Click on image for larger picture
The River Cafe on Station Approach at Putney Bridge SW6 (opp. the tube station) is one of the very best preserved caffs left in all of London town. Every element is right on the money: just round the corner from the river, parks, second hand book shops and - joy of joys - BMG Records! You want features? How about: superb vitrolite panel ceilings; magnificent blue tilework and detailing; peeling murals; top notch wood seats; unashamed Formica tables and a splendid frontage with little 'light refreshment' slogans? Just as nature intended. A great classic caff. Travel to see it. (Also handy for a visit to the nearby church featured in 'The Omen'.)

Caff Cavalcade #17
Picollo Bar EC2 special #1

Picollo Bar EC2 special #2

Mar 5 2003

A landmark project for classic cafe lovers the world over, the long-awaited Sausage & Mash Restaurant chain rebuild of Alfredo's at 4-6 Essex Rd, London, N1 is now completed and the doors are open. Owned by the DeRitis family for 80 years, Alfredos' deco styling dated from 1947 and is now superbly renewed: gleaming steel, lashings of blue table formica, huge reflective wall panels, vitrolite ceilings, odeon light fittings... the lot! As of Feb 2000 Alfredo's was boarded up and seemingly lost forever but Islington council, under the sympathetic guidance of a Mr Forshaw, were adamant the exterior and interior be protected (the upper apartments are also protected as an 18th C. terrace.) The original sign above (long thought lost) has now been re-located via Classic Cafes contacts and even the excellent old Alfredo caff mugs will soon make a re-appearance. Despite a questionable background music policy, this reconstruction is a magnificent labour of love on the part of S&M boss Kevin Finch, a huge campaigning victory for this web site and a first sign that this orphan genre of British architecture might now be taken seriously.

S&M / Alfredo's special #1
Musetti EC1 - Lost Cafe Special
Borough SE1 Special

Caff Cavalcade #16


Jan 24 2003

Cross St Cafe special
Hugely sad news that the wonderful old St Cross St Cafe [St Cross St EC1] - one of the finest caffs left standing off Little Italy's Leather Lane. It was always a welcoming little eaterie, running the kind of real family operation that was a stamp of these Italian caffs (staff would often dispense free teas at Christmas time.) The joint had a superb fascia with huge green art deco lettering, net curtains on the doorway and brilliantly individual little rosewood and leatherette seats. A large mural of some Italian beach landscape overlooked the seating area. Also gone, as the developers continue to devastate the entire EC1 area, St John's Cafe [Jerusalem Passage EC1]: 'Great rickety frontage in a lost alleyway with an early 20C serif typeface Old seating and tables throughout.' RIP


Jan 3 2003
Just came across Cheryl A Aaron's small photo pamphlet/book 'Cafe' (Printers Inc Press 1985) with this introduction by Bernard Kops: "Cafes are oases, crossroads, resting places... The East End of London is full of these cafe oases, and the East End is itself a oasis. It always was a refuge... people landed here near the docks and they settled. This was as far as they were going... They came to this East End to escape pogrom and poverty. They had no choice. All were able to start again... Each new wave helped create an amalgam of tolerance and their various dreams and struggles permeate these pavements, these walls... No-one needs to be a stranger in the streets and in the cafes of Tower Hamlets... There is no high pretentious talk. Ideas are confined to the commonplace, which is after all the noblest area of existence...These cafes, these interiors, these faces give you identity. Life is for real. It is all here, and that is enough. You have no ambition to be anywhere else. You know where you are." (Many thanks to Whitstable-based Classic Cafes fan Martin Tapsell for sending this in.)


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