is the webmaster of classiccafes.co.uk and the author of the
based on the site, Classic Cafes (Black Dog Publishing). He moved
to London in the 1980s and lives in Bow, East London, close to
his joint-first favourite cafe the mighty E. Pellicci in Bethnal Green.
(Much of Classic Cafes was conceived and written at his office,
The New Piccadilly - his other joint-first favourite London cafe.)
He has appeared
on BBC London TV news, BBC national TV news, ITN, BBC World Service,
Robert Elms Show, Danny Baker Show, Radio Four's Excess Baggage,
Food Programme, Full on Food, Working Lunch and Sky.
Both the Classic
Cafes website and book have been praised by The Guardian, The
Observer, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Times, Daily
Telegraph, Internet Magazine, FX Magazine, Time Out, Elle Decoration,
the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Twentieth Century
Adrian Maddox Interview
| Financial Times | 1 November 2003 | by
Bright lighting, banquettes
the romance of London's postwar Italian-style cafes is
threatened by the relentless march of the fast-breeder US chains...
but London's classic cafes stand firm...
opposite me in a corner booth of the New Piccadilly, Adrian Maddox
is putting the world to rights. It is, perhaps, what people do
- or used to do - in postwar Soho cafes - a bit of sociopolitical
table-banging over endless mugs of Typhoo or cups of espresso.
The New Piccadilly certainly sets the scene perfectly: the fading
1950s decor, the atmospheric fug of steam, fags and chip fat;
and Maddox himself, the angry young-ish writer, railing against
a society which he fears will allow the New Piccadilly - indeed,
a whole generation of "vintage Formica cafes" - to
be wiped out by the "scourge of fast-breeder US coffee chains".
other good causes ("weary Legion halls, disparaged bars,
frayed tailors, barbers, bare foyers - all part of the British
genius for managed decline", he says) but his passion is
London's "classic" Italian-style cafes.
He sees them
as emblems of our national character ("created by individuals
for individuals") and, against all odds, champions their
survival. The fate of the New Piccadilly, he explains, hangs
by a thread.
Maddox looks genuinely aggrieved when he talks about the demise
of the Monaco Cafe in Great Russell Street. "The interior
was astonishing," he says, recalling the "ocean-liner
panelling, the War of the Worlds-style UFO lamp fittings,
the Festival of Britain hatstand".
of leatherette sanity
He lists the
loss of the Regent Milk Bar (Edgware Road's own seaside cafe
was a homage to lime green Formica) and Brunchies in Great Titchfield
Street ("an oasis of leatherette sanity") among recent
doomed to follow but if Maddox has anything to do with it they
will not be forgotten. Indeed, more than 100 of London's postwar
cafes - some lost, many still surviving - are detailed and documented
for posterity on classiccafes.co.uk, the illuminating website
he founded six years ago.
a "seriously sentimental... fast-track insight into the
backwaters of Britannia Moribundia", the site is a cult
web classic. And this week it is followed by a book of the same
name. Both represent a personal but popular crusade to preserve
or at least record London's endangered legacy of mid-century
cafes, for which Maddox seeks wider recognition as "mini
masterpieces of vernacular high-street design".
is appropriate. It is the 50th anniversary of Britain's first
Italian-style espresso bar, the Moka in Frith Street, a long-lost
Soho institution opened by Gina Lollobrigida in 1953.
Once a crucible
of the seedy glamour that was postwar Soho (described by Quentin
Crisp as a social melange of "bookies and burglars, actresses
and artisans, poets and prostitutes"), it was closed down
in the early 1970s after a spat with the writer William S Burroughs
over a piece of cheesecake (or so the story goes). But, nonetheless,
it goes down in Classic Cafe history as the role model for the
generations of Italian-run coffee bars and cafes that followed.
lit and deco-moderne and furnished with melamine, chrome, Vitrolite
and Gaggia espresso machines, they must once have seemed strangely
exotic but soon evolved into the most British of urban eateries
- the greasy spoon, the working men's "caff", the bastion
of low-budget, ketchup-and-custard English food.
Maddox, the postwar cafe can even take some credit for London's
"cultural ascendancy" in the 1960s. "The whole
of the British rock 'n' roll movement was born in a caff,"
he insists. But progress - and profit - has no room for nostalgia.
of redevelopment, savage rent increases and the relentless march
of chains such as Starbucks, Benjys and Pret A Manger, the old-style,
family-run cafe is an endangered species. "They are dead
men walking," says Maddox grimly.
I asked him
to show me a slice of Classic Cafe life, and embarked on a walking
tour that took us south from Bond Street to the northern edge
of Mayfair and east into Soho and the back streets of Piccadilly.
This is by
no means the complete tour, explains Maddox, whose orbit of all-day
breakfast venues extends into Enfield to the north of London,
Putney in the southwest, Mile End in the east and beyond.
His own favourite
is former Kray twins' local, "the mighty Pellicci"
in Bethnal Green. In fact, both book and website also peek through
the windows of cafes outside the capital in Broadstairs, Brighton,
Swansea and Morecambe. But, as far as Classic Cafe society goes,
central London remains the Holy Grail.
We start in
an unremarkable little place called the Sandwich Bar in a dead-end
mews tucked away behind Claridge's. We sit, not among poets,
or even prostitutes, but builders, cabbies and doormen, while
I am introduced to the finer points of such original features
as plastic stick-on lettering, sludge-green Formica and banquettes
in matching green leatherette...
... The decor
is dingy but, according to Maddox, this is one of the best examples
of London's few surviving "plain-style" cafes. "It
has a Pinteresque feel, which seems to me to be the defining
element of the classic caff," he enthuses.
I have less
enthusiasm for the Sandwich Bar's "lo-fi minimalism"
but things improve when we hit Grosvenor Street, where Maddox
introduces me to the Chalet. A classic example of the postwar
trend for "Alpine exotica" themed cafe-restaurants,
it's clad in Tyrolean timbering, lined with immaculate polished-wood
panelling and furnished with wrought iron and cute Alpine chairs.
In Old Compton
Street, we take a swift look at the Pollo (original red booths,
beanpole rails, little coloured lights), before peering into
the magnificent Presto, a time-warped trattoria, reminiscent
of Rimini 1956 and decorated in orange and Mediterranean blues,
mosaics and dressed-up chianti bottles. "Derek Jarman used
to live in the Presto," says Maddox. "He was in here
I am fed more
snippets of socio-cultural memorabilia as we pass the "very
plain" Centrale cafe (where Malcolm McLaren nurtured the
1980s pop band, Bow Wow Wow), and the nearby Cappuccitto - one
of two 1960s London cafes owned by Alberto Pagano, who claims
to have introduced Britain to pesto (as well as the art of sprinkling
chocolate powder on to cappuccino)...
cafe chair #14
the tour, Maddox points out nice little Sorrentine touches, classic
ceiling details, mosaic-tiled doorways and laminate floors; he
lifts plastic tablecloths to reveal "original" tables
and introduces the Thonet bentwood chair (the "Vienna cafe
chair, number 14", a classic-cafe staple, was designed by
Michael Thonet in 1859, and is still in production).
He also takes
pains to show me the price of progress. "Look at that horrific
plastic seating, the nasty signage", he spits as we pass
one recently "decimated" cafe. The Bar Italia is authentic,
he agrees, as we eye up its chromed facia and two-tone leatherette
stools, "but it's full of Soho media gimps and televised
sport - it's too active." He generally prefers the worn-out,
threadbare, Pinter-meets-Hopper version of the classic cafe.
"Utterly isolationist and unflinching in its utility"
is his idea of a eulogy.
It would not,
however, be a fitting description for the glory of the New Piccadilly
in Denman Street, the "cathedral among cafes" Maddox
deliberately saves until last. "Look at the signage, the
frontage, the colours," he entreats. "Look at Lorenzo."
of searing yellow Formica
Lorenzo Manioni, who has spent his life in the New Piccadilly,
hasn't changed a hair of his father's business since it first
opened in 1951. Everything - the orgasm of searing yellow Formica,
the plastic flowers, the pink enamelled espresso machine, the
neon "Eats" sign, the Pyrex cups, the glasses, even
the menu (peach melba, banana split) - is completely original.
We order. Maddox
tucks into a plate of chips and beans. I have the daily special
(chicken casserole served with chips and green beans). You can
feast on the atmosphere here but the food is average. "My
rallying cry about classic cafes is that the food is utterly
immaterial," explains Maddox. "You can complain about
food anywhere at any time. Crap food will go on forever but these
places are going to vanish."
New Piccadilly is destined to be swept away in a planned redevelopment
of Denham Street. And, I agree with Maddox, cafes like these
should be listed and protected - they may not be everyone's cup
of tea but to see a place of such rare and stalwart individuality,
such an iconic period piece, crushed by the advancing homogeneity
of High Street UK is a tragedy.
that "in a small Michael Moore-ish way" his book will
help spark a campaign against the "corporate hubris"
that is destroying the character of, not just cafes, but every
nook and cranny of our largely unprotected commercial heritage.
mid 20th century, nobody cared about Victorian architecture,"
he says, the point being that we had already destroyed acres
of 19th century buildings before appreciating what we had. Widespread
appreciation for 20th century shop premises is barely even born,
but all is not yet lost for the classic cafe.
for the nation
Take, for example,
the happier case of Alfredo's cafe on Islington Green in north
London. Owned by one family since the 1920s, it was a much-loved
local landmark with a perfectly preserved ocean-liner, art deco
frontage, and classic interior. Then suddenly, recalls Maddox,
was boarded up, the chrome sign disappeared. It was terrible."
But not terrible for long. Alfredo's was acquired by London's
small Sausage & Mash restaurant chain and has since been
completely restored. "Every piece of homogeneity Vitrolite,
every bit of plastic, every chair has been restored," rejoices
Maddox. Even the stolen sign was returned.
so the food has moved upmarket," he adds rather wistfully
"But Alfredo's has been saved for the nation, and that's
More > The
Times: Classic Cafes feature (by Bob Stanley)
More > Legend
of Booth 4B (& Sunday Post Interview)