Dante's Special: the bright lights of Duke Street

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There was something perfect about Dante's: the location, just off the swarming hell of Bond Street; the gothic swing-sign; the arched, den-like entrance; the stone mouldings outside; the impressive internal array of proper-caff kit... counters, lights, tables, chairs.

A real hole in the wall. One of a kind.

Smart, trim, mod-ish, the whole place was infused with a blushed roseate light. Polished walls reflected orange-filtered bulbs from the overhead pendants. Red Formica tables hummed with colour. Tea-urns pumped like twin-steel lungs powering the whole cafe.

The owner would tell stories of a relative who set off from Italy early in the twentieth century to walk across Europe, desperate to get to England, with only an accordion to help earn his way. (One of many who ended up establishing swathes of Italian family cafes throughout the country.)

Dante's always seemed to have room. There always seemed to be time.

In a classic cafe like Dante's, you could live; in the kind of glazed 'third-space' coffee shop that replaced it (Prozac architecture, catalogue interiors) you existed.

In such centerparcs of the soul, you get with the programme: Plug into prefab lifestyles culled from corporate manuals (your life in their brands); Go mainstream modern with the rest of your carefully calibrated demographic.

Tune in. Dumbdown. Log-out.

But Dante's warmth spread through you like balm. Sapped patrons could breathe easier, come up for air.

During London winters with skies like cancerous gelid tissue, the domestic pulsebeat of Dante's restored customers. Like a Formica sanatorium.

Outside, Duke Street wound down into the luxury enclaves of Mayfair. Dante's remained the last human demarcation point on the road before entering some of the most expensive real estate in the known universe: upscale office-space where everyone looks like a corporate psychopath.

Starb**ks country...

A brief interview with Dante appeared on Radio 4's 'Excess Baggage' travel show (May 2002). Shortly after, the cafe changed hands and was destroyed.

Remo's - just around the corner - was another masterpiece that shut almost as soon as Classic Cafes got to it for a photo shoot. Once again, the curse of William S. Burroughs' Playback would impose itself. (Oddly, Burroughs used to stay in Duke Street on visits to London.)

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