This is an abbreviated
version of the caff tour associated with the forthcoming Classic
Cafes large-format book: publication date December 2003. NB:
A fuller version is hidden as an 'easter egg' on this site (the
location can be found in the book.) Here's the full unexpurgated Central London Cafe Tour that was put together for Architecture
Week 17-26 June
The term 'psychogeography'
harks back to DeQuincey's slightly druggy wanderings, mapping
out the city in a dream-like state. But with Walter Benjamin,
as Iain Sinclair points out, psychogeography becomes: "more
extreme, a matter of taking very conceptual decisions about the
walking you would do and how you would access the city like that."
As so many cafes today remain effectively
benighted, often the only way to bring them to light is by random
happy walking accidents in the Sinclair or Benjamin mould; taking
wrong turnings, looking down and around corners, blundering behind
But for a more direct way of accessing
these latent pyschogeographic energies try the No. 8 bus-route.
Over three dozen key cafes in a day! That's
entertainment! Within a few years every
single one will be gone and forgotten. So get to them now. You'll
need a 1-2 zone one-day travelcard and an A-Z at all points.
Here's the route ...
Start the tour at Bethnal
Green tube, walk up the road to find...
E Pellicci 332 Bethnal Green Road, E2
(020 7739 4873)
Owner Nevio was born above the shop and the intricate marquetry
interior was crafted by Achille Capocci in 1946. The exterior
Univers-face steel logo above the custard vitrolite exterior
paneling makes for maximum authenticity. Serving up top nosh
for over 100 years, this is simply one of the greatest eateries
in London. See Pellicci's and die.
Take the No 8 on to Liverpool
Street E2] RIP
Hidden in what
once must have been a thriving little community close by Spitalfields
market, this place is very similar to the old Tea Rooms as was.
Blue painted wooden exterior, Coca Cola sign, Helvetica logo,
net curtains and inside an amazing wallpapered interior looking
onto a parlour full of old Formica tables, worn Lino flooring
and a proper counter. Maximum Moribundia! (Sure to be converted
into a Hoxton-twat live/work unit with loft potential any day
Copper Grill [Eldon St EC2] RIP
This timewarp is set in an unlikely area behind Liverpool St.
The large amount of wood booth seating is inspirational and the
scale somewhere near the best of the US diners like Dennys. Perfect
rosewood tables; Lapidus beanpole rails; milk bar-style serving
counters; Good lights; Great yellow outside sign ... see also
the snazzy The Piccollo cafe almost next door.
Dino's [Commercial St E1]
Good old Italian survivor from the days when this area was dense
Good, rangy seating and neat Dumb waiter. Excellent 'specialist
chips.' Which you have to know to ask for.
Rosa's [12 Hanbury St E1] RIP
Just round the corner from Christ Church, Bud Flannagan 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 & George ephemera also (it's
now their local after the Market Cafe closed) ! Check out the
ceiling details also.
City Corner [Midddlesex
Very good looking
cafe with compact sea-green leatherette booths, an amazing back-wall
mosaic and nice classic-cafe menu boards in the window.
From Liverpool Street take
the No. 8 on to Chancery Lane, walk up Leather Lane...
Farina's [Leather Lane EC1] RIP
Farinas has a fine large dark interior with marbleised, chrome
legged tables and dozens of worn green leatherette chairs. A
classic of its kind.
Andrew's [Grays Inn Rd WC1] RIP
Slightly off the Little Italy drag, Andrews is a brilliant local
'plain' cafe. Fine part-mosaic exterior; solid dun-coloured windows;
proper wooden tables and chairs. Andrew's also acts as an unofficial
clearing house for the nearby Panther House office block - an
entrepreneurial pox maze of fly-by-night record companies, 'artiste'
agencies and innumerable waxing and waning businesses. (In September 2004 Andrews's interior
was completely altered: though the historic frontage remains
intact the ceilings and wall panellings have changed for the
worse. Fortunately the original tables and chairs remain.)
Golden Fry [Mount Pleasant WC1]
Cosy familial Italian cafe that's also half of a fish & chip
shop opposite Mount Pleasant post office. Truly amazing 40s designed
seats and full-on rosewood interior. This place has an almost
Edwardian air to it. A modern masterpiece.
Muratori [162 Farringdon Road, EC1 nr
Margery St 020 7837 4015]
Set up by Parma Italians in the 1960s, this all-in-brown cafe
retains superb panels throughout and the tables are top-notch
brown Formica veneer with classic chairs all round and two good
high-backed booths for good measure. Manageress Giuliana Muratori
sums up the most important ingredient for a successful caff:
Nip back down Farringdon
Road to Clerkenwell Green...
Scotti's Snack Bar [Clerkenwell Green
An absolute timewarp gem in a wonderful area surrounded by churches,
fine industrial architecture and the myriad attractions of Little
Italy. Packed with cabbies and featuring: great panel ceiling;
fabulous grey op-art Formica wall panels; grade-A chairs; classic
counters and 50s shelving throughout; attentive Italian staff;
fine lights; good clocks; kitsch parlour paintings; textured
40s wallpaper; confection displays... right on the money.
Resume the No 8 at Chancery
Lane and get off at the top of New Oxford St where the road bisects
Tea Rooms [Museum St WC1] RIP
In Peter Ackroyd's vital 'London: The Biography' you can find
a mournfully reproduced 1914 painting by William Ratcliffe entitled
'The Coffee House'. Ackroyd's caption tellingly reads: 'despite
its colourful interior, (the cafe) conveys a characteristic melancholy
and anonymity. The Tea Rooms retains this flavour of the early
century, combining a 19C tea house atmosphere with the Pinteresque
ambience of a down at heel 20C workingmen's café ...
Zita (Ida's) [232 Shaftesbury Ave WC2]
Just round from The Tea Rooms, Zitas remains one of the few central
London cafes of any use. With a few highlights left over from
the Festival of Britain 'contemporary' look, it makes an instructive
comparison with Tea Rooms...Top 50s exterior sign, glorious orange
Formica seating and slatted ceiling. "The
old ladies who ran Zita's have gone back to Italy but their cousin
has bought it. I told the friendly young apronless waiter that
I hoped he was going to keep the decor the same (especially the
booths) but I'm not sure he understood me - he just sort of smiled
and nodded. It seems to be called Ida's on the inside but the
awning and sign and remain the same." (James) Interior
destroyed Feb 2005
Head down to Charing Cross
Road ready to pull into Soho...
101 Snack Bar [101 Charing Cross Road
This little pull-in almost opposite the Phoenix theatre has been
a Soho staple for decades. The all yellow and black laminate
interior is blazingly bright, standing like a beacon all day
and night. Streams of 'local girls' pour in through the day for
cigarettes and sandwiches. Has something of the feel of a typical
local French or Italian bar. The outside sign is a 50s classic.
Pollo [Old Compton St W1] RIP
Lovely red and black seats throughout with full-to-the-gills
From here move deeper into
Lorelei [Bateman St W1]
Slapbang in the centre of Soho, this little place really packs
in all the requisites. The Italian flag exterior and the lovely
old sign are all absolutely untouched and the inside resembles
a miniature village hall circa 1958 - linoleum floor, square
Formica tables, shabby posters, tiny serving area, creaky wooden
chairs. Look carefully at the sign on the side of the restaurant.
Bruno Snack Bar [Wardour St W1]
A little slice of ye authentic Soho of olde which, along with
the Lorelei, has outlasted the developers. Chalet style booths
with cheery green leatherette, massive hanging menus offering
dozens of sandwich combinations and constantly busy staff.
Move back onto Oxford Street
and head to Bond St tube...head north to...
Marylebone Cafe [Thayer St W1]
Plain-style find on the verges of Oxford St. Good exterior mosaic
tile patterning and a big bold nameplate. Decent booth interior.
Paul Rothe [35 Marylebone Lane W1]
Untouched, combo deli and old-fashioned provisions shop with
odd, fold-up white leatherette seating and renowned liptauer
Cut back down Oxford
St back to Bond St. Nip behind the tube, head south to...
Sandwich Bar [Brooks Mews W1] RIP
Hidden gem, utterly overlooked in a superb lost mews. Amazing
sign and door handle. Brilliant green leatherette seats. Worn
Formica tables. Interesting mix of clientele: cabbies & Claridges
doormen. Functional and friendly. A model of British utility.
Chalet [Grosvenor St W1]
With its wistful, seemingly hand-drawn exterior sign, this swish
little place is kitted out in 60s Swiss-style very much like
the 'Lucky Spot' in North Audley St (opposite Selfridges) and
Scoffs (opposite the Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High
Street) Along with The 'St Moritz' Wardour St and 'The Tiroler
Hut' in Westbourne Grove.
RendezVous [56 Maddox St W1] RIP
Gaze longingly at the outside Espresso Bongo-like sign and then
scoot into one of the very best London caffs left standing around
Bond Street. It's arranged like a domestic living room with covered
tables, perfect wooden chairs; lights; counters and lashings
of warm formica on the walls run to perfection by a lovely couple
who really have their hearts in the right place.
Walk down New Bond St to
The New Piccadilly [Denman St W1] RIP
Run by the irrepressible Lorenzo and his crack team of uniformed
waiters, this is the last of the big hitters left in Soho and
possibly the largest cafe left in central London. Pink Formica
coffee machine, big plastic Horseshoe shaped menu. Wall-to-wall
yellow Formica and lots and lots of brilliant booth seating make
this one of London's finest lounge spaces. The New Piccadilly
menu alone is a collectors-item design classic.
Euro Snack Bar [Swallow St W1] RIP
The central London area seems bereft of visible, decent cafes.
But they can infrequently be found, usually tucked off the tourist
trails subsisting on a seemingly need-to-know basis. A prime
example is the smart little Euro Snack Bar installed in an obscure
street lined with lap-dancing clubs.
Euro Sandwich Bar
The central London area seems
bereft of decent cafes. But they are there, usually tucked round
some little backstreet. A prime example was the smart Euro Snack
Bar, set off in an obscure Piccadilly street lined with lap dancing
clubs. This had a superb 'Euro' style frontage with great 60s
typography. The inside was small: several comfortable booths,
very low ceilings and numerous odd little mini-counters attached
to the walls by every table that held the drab, green salt n'
pepper sets (these would be immortalised after ending up as the
cover image of the Classic Cafes book.) The Euro was very much
a local cafe, often full of girls from the neighbouring strip
clubs. A terrible loss.
Return to the No 8 stop
in Stratton St by Green Park tube and head on to Victoria...
The Italian Restaurant [Rochester Row
Stick on the No. 8 all the way down to Victoria for a real find.
A great local in a brilliant little enclave off the grotesque
scum-centre that is modern Victoria. The impressive beige curvilinear
counter in beige dates from 1953. Classic b&w Formica wall
covering throughout and hugely enthusiastic staff give this a
good, grubby, authentic 50s/60s feel. Right next to the magnificently
sleazy Alpha Books. Absolutely superb.
Tony's Cafe [Chapter St SW1]
Neat local cafe in Victoria enclave off Vauxhall Bridge Rd. Good
for booths and interior lighting. Simple yet effective.
Further Formica fixes...
Alpino [Chapel Market N1] RIP
Only the stylish serif typeface of the sign above the door indicates
anything special from the outside. Inside however this is a wonderland
of fine top-of-the-range period tables and luxury booth seating.
Ranks with the Golden Fish Bar for outstanding interior merit.
Packed tight furniture and wall hangings and lovely light fixtures.
The Alpino's cup & saucer sets are also perfection.
San Siro [Highgate West Hill N6/Parliament
Good, old and rundown. Fair int. In terminal decline for decades.
Coffee Cup [Hampstead High St NW3]
Venerable local institution somewhat in the mould of Earls Court's
Troubadour Coffee House - retains something of the feel of an
old Edwardan tea house and 17C Coffee House with a dash of Hampstead
Sea Breeze [239 High St E17] RIP Nov 2003
Well worth travelling for and near-ish the tube end of this packed
local market street. A remarkable interior with black and brown
booths. Brilliant light-fittings and loads of powder blue and
Mondrian Formica coloured panels throughout. A place of pilgrimage.
Cut glass front door too. This fish an chip joint is a must-see.
Mama's [Waterloo Rd - near Webber Row
- SE1] RIP
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 always ramed
with extravagantly flatulent building crews fired up on tabloids.
Maria's [Lower Marsh St SE1] RIP
Small but popular local with a pleasantly ratty interior that
looks like a Victorian pie and mash shop with marble top tables
throughout. Serves up Thai meals througout the day.
Harris' Cafe Rest [30 Goldhawk Rd W12]
For some reason the Shepherds Bush area has/had a tightly-packed
little enclave of interesting cafes. Harris' frontage is remarkable
for its long net curtains and plum coloured sign. (Zippys nearby
was a great early 70s style cafe that has elements of authentic
Americana and great lights over the counter. (Even the Ritz restaurant
opposite has a striking large green logo). Worth mentioning the
fluted wall panelling and big, big portions. The colour scheme
is puce meets plumb meets boarding home...pure Patrick Hamilton
slaves of solitude.
Cafe Rest W12
Long a local landmark (and
a regular award-winner in Martin Fletcher's The Good Cafe
Guide), Harris' frontage is remarkable for its long
net curtains and exceptional sign set against the plum coloured
fascia. Its rest-home front room has set it in good stead with
legions of returning-customers who seem to have been coming for
decades. Two other Pinter-esque classics also used to be nearby:
The Metro down the road under the tube station
(now gone), and an unamed arch-cafe tucked in the entrance of
the local market itself (burnt out years ago). Note that the
equally old-fashioned, Ritz restaurant up the street has
a striking large green logo... the Zippy Grill, pretty
well opposite, has a rare and perfect early Wimpy red-booth interior.
River Cafe [Opp. Putney Bridge Tube]
This place has it all. Superb vitrolite ceiling, magnificent
blue-tile work & murals, excellent wood seats and full-on
Formica tables, large busy counter, eccentric locals and a splendid
frontage with Gill-face sign. Not to mention a dream-team Italian
family giving the best service this side of
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