have reached the full Hidden Easter Egg version of the grand
caff tour associated with the Classic Cafes book by Adrian
Maddox Dec 2003 (Black Dog Publishing). For a comprehensive and
regularly updated list of London cafes (and others from around
Britain) you can now consult our massive Caff Gazetteer. 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. (After Internationale
Situationniste # 1 of 1957 it now usually indicates a study
of the effects of geographical settings on the mood of the individual.)
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."
The invocation of the great flâneur
is itself illuminating. Benjamin's accounts of his rovings through
the streets of early 20C Paris - 'Full of beautiful aphorisms
and leaps of imagination, a scholarship of evocation rather than
definition" - manifest the same limitless imaginative topographies
that emanated from the cafes of the 50s. (Interestingly, there
is a Catalan verb 'badar' which means 'to walk around awestruck
with one's eyes wide open, mouth agape')
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 main streets.
For a more direct way of accessing these
latent pyschogeographic energies try the No. 8 bus-route.
By starting at Bethnal Green tube and following
the circuit to Victoria station (diverting into Chancery Lane,
Farringdon, Holborn, New Oxford St, Bond St and all points West
End - see map below) it's possible to trace the unconscious cultural
contours of nearly forty central London cafés in their
natural environments (or was in winter of 2002).
An entire day can be eked out in cafeland
if you follow this insiders guide. An all-in-one insight into
the textures and feel of classic cafes throughout London. Over
three dozen key cafes in a day! That's entertainment!
Due to the vicissitudes of leases and the
stranglehold of the fast-food corporates generally it's likely
that within five years every single one will be gone and forgotten.
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...
The vogue for coffee
bars...provided a whiff of exotic cosmopolitanism and gave eclecticism
free rein... The increasing availability of Italian espresso
machines from 1953 occasioned what 'Architectural Design' hailed
as 'the greatest social revolution since the laundrette'...
'Building a Better Future' (Wiley-Academy 2000 p95)
Start the tour at Bethnal
Green tube, walk up the road to find...
E Pellicci [332 Bethnal Green Road E2]
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. Alongside Aflredo's
in Islington, The Pellicci was also a gangland oasis with local
heavies the Krays being firm fixtures during the 1960s. Serving
up top nosh for over 100 years, this is simply one of the greatest
eateries in London. See Pellicci's and die.
First Choice [Bethnal Green Road E2]
Almost next to Pellicci's. The
outside sign is maybe the best feature - alongside some proper
caff tables and chairs... and the fact that the place seems to
be staffed by Kosovan lap dancers. Don't detain yourself.
Take the No 8 on to Liverpool
Cafe [Redchurch Street
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 July 2004
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 and an even
larger downstairs basement with a weird geometric counter and
caff-murals adorning the back alcove booths
The Piccolo [Eldon St EC2] RIP July 2004
A dinky little two-up two-down
caff set right next to the all time classic Copper Grill in Eldon
St EC2 (just behind Liverpool St station.) Apart from its inviting
exterior sign, the real glory of the Piccolo lies underneath
the main sandwich shop in the compact basement cafe known only
to breakfasting local office drones and a few plucky insiders.
The rosewood seats, chalet lights, half-timbered walls and tiny
arched alcoves make for an intimate, private eating space pleasantly
tucked away from the soiling crush of the City. The multi-coloured
Formica table tops are a particular joy.
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 St EC1]
Good looking Formica cafe with compact sea-green leatherette
booths and a lovely back-wall mosaic!
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, green-metal
legged tables and dozens of worn green leatherette chairs. A
classic of its kind.
Cross St Cafe [St Cross St EC1] RIP Jan 2003
Superb full-on fascia with huge limegreen deco-style lettering.
The brilliantly individual little rosewood and leatherette chairs
are a must-see watched over by the foxed Italian tourist posters
and full steaming tea-machine. Eye poppingly lovely.
Andrew's [Grays Inn Rd WC1] RIP(ish)
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.)
City Snacks [Theobalds Road WC1]
Huge outside sign signaling yet another fine local, the small
interior is notable for its wall-to-wall Formica wall coverings.
Conduit Coffee House
[Lambs Conduit Street WC1]
Good beige booth seats in a fine little enclave off Holborn.
Large back section and good counter and tea machine.
Golden Fish [Farringdon Rd EC1/Mount
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.
Alfie's [Mount Pleasant WC1]
This hole-in-the-wall caff boasts a tiny counter bar running
like a ledge of Formica round the walls, a Belisha beacon of
a sign in orange copperplate and a magnificent clock shaped like
a cappuccino cup.
Luigi's [Roseberry Ave EC1]
Near Mount Pleasant between two sets of barbers - very small
with only a couple of booths, stand-up chairs and counter but
it has a secret wall-to-wall Formica basement with wall-to-wall
postmen from the massive local Mount Pleasant office. Used for
a Pulp LP cover-insert shoot.
Muratori [162 Farringdon Road, EC1 nr
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. Family-run and always rammed
with cabbies in extremely high-spirits. Manageress Giuliana Muratori
sums up the most important ingredient for a successful caff:
Nip back down Farringdon
Road to Clerkenwell Green...
St John's Cafe [Jerusalem Passage EC1]
RIP Jan 2003
Great rickety frontage in a lost alleyway with an early 20C serif
typeface Old seating and tables throughout . A hideaway treat
in the magnificent caffscape of EC1 - fast becoming a classic
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.
Beppe's [Smithfield EC1]
'Beppe's is a family run place (opposite St Barts Hospital near
Smithfield meat market) with a sense of history and reputation
for frosty service. Old man Beppe's journal is framed on the
wall and the 1940's picture behind the counter is of him as a
young lad. Food is mostly great filled toasted ciabattas, cannelonis,
and the signature dish, steak and kidney pie. The largely untouched
interior includes pleasant booths and a beaten copper counter.
Clientelle is mostly health workers, builders and office workers.
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.
Now "pretty well finished as a classic cafe, as
the original shop sign, glass display, customer counter, and
stool-seating has all been removed. The yellow Formica walls
are partially obscured by a drinks fridge." (Patrick Turland)
Presto [Old Compton St W1] RIP Nov 2003
Great chalet-style interior - endless booths and wall hangings
Pollo [Old Compton St W1] RIP
Lovely red and black seats throughout with full-to-the-gills
Cappucetto [Moor St W1] RIP Jan 2005
Extraordinary hidden chalet/cabin basement with a vaguely nautical
[Frith Street W1]
Founded in the late 1940s, the neon entrance sign and hanging
clock front an interior with stools running down a long counter
space laminated in two-tone Formica. Open twenty three hours
a day, the atmosphere is somewhat impaired by the large projection
TV and droves of Soho media flunkeys.
Centrale [Moor St W1] RIP
Tiny - but with good battered frontage and battered old brown
Amalfi [Old Compton St W1] RIP
Sensitively renovated restaurant with massive basement and a
small add-on side cafe which used to retain more 50s fittings
than it does now.
Tratoria Aldo [Greek St W1] RIP
Lost little tratorria with rows of sweet little booths and cod-Italiana
Jimmy's [Greek St or near Greek St basement
Seething underground el cheapo greek refectory
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.
Bar 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.
Street W1] RIP
Just of the Marylebone
drag - the exterior's recently been altered but the inside is
pure plain-style perfection: dead and loving it! Apparently a favourite
of Ray Davies.
Paul Rothe [35 Marylebone Lane W1]
Untouched, combo deli and old-fashioned provisions shop with
odd, fold-up white leatherette seating and renowned liptauer
Golden Hind [Marylebone Lane W1]
Open for nearly forty five years and owned by the Schiavetta
family, this Art Deco chippie with classic cafe chairs and tables-and
staggered opening hours-has become monstrously popular.
Buscott Dairy [Molyneux Street W1] NEW
Beautifully sited in the base of a handsome mansion block in
an even more forgotten area of the West End. The Buscott still
retains good caramel booths, old wall heaters and some original
signage in the windows. The entire frontage looks very 1940s
and the cafe seems to be attached to an incredibly narrow - only
6ft wide - block of flats. Obviously once a local dairy, there's
no other exterior quite like it in London. A real find.
Bit of a major detour
here, head west up Wigmore St to Mortimer St opposite the hospital...
John's Sandwich Bar [Mortimer St] RIP
Initially this seems like just another crap Soho-fringes sandwich
bar but look in closer - the menu looks good, the sign is inviting
and there's a cluster of frayed booth seats at the back. Hoorah!
Inside we find an unusual dark patterned counter, odd hessian
wall coverings, top service in crypto Italiano/cod-Spanish, interesting
false ceiling units and - for the caff anoraks - the very same
elegant patterned cup n' saucer sets as the mighty Alpino, except
in light green rather than dark plum. A welcome space in this
welcome little area away from the main tourist drag. "John's
has been here as long as I can remember. It has seen off many
a pretender on the corner of Mortimer Street. Obviously the two
helpers (John is the amiable plump looking fella) weren't up
to their womanzing ways when you were in there. If only I had
their chat up lines. 'Whatta you wan' blondie', is one of their
many gems. They also say comic things like (and I've heard this
in many Italian cafes) '£5 cash for the full English'.
It's bloody marvellous they have stayed the course as nearby
Charlotte Street is full of wanky Starbucks and Soup Kitchens
frequented by twat media types gabbing into their Nokios. You
do really use the will to live when you see what they are doing
to a marvellous place like Fitzrovia. The late Julian Macclaren-Ross
would be spiralling down to the Antipodies if he knew."
Keep on west to Goodge
St and head north to the very top of Whitfield St to Grafton
Maria's [Grafton Way W1] RIP
A highly appreciated find in the ever-interesting Fitzrovia area
behind Warren St. This has a truly sumptuous orange and yellow
vitrolite exterior with deco metal trimming all over! A total
seaside surprise sitting on a dusty corner. Within - despite
the small space - there are two good gingham covered tables and
excellent minimalist 60s leatherette & metal chairs - and
some lesser stools hanging along the windows. A chalet style
beamed ceiling finishes off the package. Large menus hang everywhere
and the sign above the awnings is a trusty Helvetica job. A really
splendid bijou local caff. Every godawful new 'Benjys' sandwich
bar should be forced to model itself on Maria's and then London
could hold its head high!
Fish Bar & Kebab House [Whitfield
Street W1] RIP
The main front-section is a standard fish bar, but tucked round
the side is a bolt-on mini-restaurant that looks pretty well
untouched since 1953. Features include: square, solid, metal
and drab-green leatherette chairs; ranks of tables; polished
vinyl-wood walls; scallop shell ceilings; period clocks; random
Lino's (formerly Sidoli's Buttery) [Alfred
Place WC1] RIP
Good seating and a pleasing ambience well away from the crushing
boredom of the Tottenham Court Road furniture shops. The Sidoli
family used to run chains of cafes throughout Britain.
Stanley's [Little Portland Street W1]
The LA-lounge-cum-motorway-caff design was overseen by Quentin
Reynolds. Frank Lloyd Wright relief walls in grey, dazzling scarlet
banquettesand a big municipal clock over the stairwell.
Cut back down Cleveland
St, Gt Portland St and 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 [Maddox 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 Once, this styling was once all the
rage as Alpine-exotica briefly irrupted throughout Europe after
the 50s. Lots of polished brown wood, fancy ironwork lighting,
pew-bench seating and a swathe of timber wall fixtures. Don't
miss the further two basement sections hidden at the back.
Rendez-Vous [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.
The Lucky Spot [North Audley St W1]
Narrow site but oddly grand carved stone exterior if you look
up. Heavy on the crypto-Swiss overkill, The Lucky Spot features
very high-backed pews, lots of dark paneling which the owner
insists is meant to be Elizabethan pastiche.
Dante [Duke St W1] RIP Mar 2003
A real hole-in-the-wall corker: Great 50s lamp shades throughout;
orange/red booths a-go-go; leatherette stools; dark paneled walls...
Serious kit. Stroll straight in off Oxford Street after lolling
about in Selfridges, order a large bacon bap and look the world
right in the eye...
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. Quite apart from the
breathtaking interior, the New Piccadilly menu alone is a collectors-item
design classic. A cathedral amongst caffs - a place of reverence.
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. With a superb orange and
green frontage with top 60s typography this place sports small,
comfortable booths, low ceilings and odd little mini-counters
on every table for holding the drab-green salt n' pepper sets.
Often full of girls from the neighbouring strip clubs.
Sergio's [Eagle Place
Useful little cafe
off Piccadilly. Good sign and a few booths. Worth a look. But
eclipsed by the glories of The Euro Snack Bar nearby.
Chandos Sandwich Bar [Chandos Place
A detour here from Piccadilly towards Trafalgar Sq reveals the
Chandos' fine red signage and Wimpy-style interior with solid
booths and an even better range of single chrome and green leatherette
stools ranged along one wall. Hidden off a great little cluster
of hideaway streets just right for mooching away sodden afternoons
in the middle of a grey London autumns. The city at its moribund
Orsini [Whitcomb Street WC2] NEW
Hidden off the
main tourist drag of Trafalgar Square, this half-decent little
plain cafe has some pensive and withdrawn brown booths at the
back. Nice hanging sign outside too... 'refurbished by new owners August 2004. New booths
have been installed, with a wood-laminate top tables, and brown
leatherette seats... a sympathetic refit. It's now called Orsini.'
Before resuming the No
8 route at the stop to the side of Green Park tube in Stratton
St, make for Shepherd's Market just behind the tube...
The Express [Shepherd Market W1]
the only authentic classic café left in Mayfair - though
The Prisoner styled little old bistro up the street is also of
note. Great frontage in the classic style and small but perfectly
formed formica n' table interior. The seedy Graham Green feel
is enforced by the 'model for hire' red-light perched in the
window of the flat above. Apparently a throwback to the friendly
old Mayfair of yore! Heritage Britain at its best.
Return to the No 8 stop
in Stratton St and onto 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.
Wilton [Wilton Rd SW1] RIP
Splendid little 'plain style' find in the heart of Victoria.
Here we have a top sign, cracking powder blue marbleised flooring
and neat rosewood and black leatherette booths
Regency Cafe [Page St SW1]
Imposing black tile Deco exterior with lovely Gill typeface logo.
Walls and ceiling are good but all the original tables and seating
have been removed. Often used for exterior film/ad. shots - built
into the base of a 30s block of mansion flats. Lovely old coffee
poster pasted to back wall.
Astral Cafe [Regency
Place (off Horseferry Road) SW1] NEW
"has had some
work done on it over the years but there is still the original
wall panels/shelves and in the back some of the Formica is left
behind... good breakfasts and lunches, many have commented on
its '50s feel." (Walter)
Tevere [Great Peter
Street SW1P] RIP
An upmarket chalet-style
cafe at the junction of Marsham Street and Great Peter Street
in the Westminster Village. Tevere is milk chocolate brown inside
all dark dark wood panels and grey net curtains. The
waitresses are black-clad Roman ladies, smothered in creamy make-up
and always just slightly on the side of being annoyed at your
very existence. The clientele are lovelorn House of Commons researchers
(sharing a carafe of house white and sobbing over their MP's
infidelities), grumbling hacks and passed-over civil servants
in shiny Burton's suits gossiping and grinding their teeth. You
can easily imagine Ted Heath gliding by in his ministerial Rover
or Enoch Powell sitting at a table in a three piece suit with
double-breasted waistcoat pounding out 'Tiber foaming with blood'
speeches (Tevere is Italian for 'Tiber'). All in all, a moribund
& UK Caff Gazetteer
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