| Sunday Post
| November 28 2004 | by James Millar
is a deliberate piece of cultural engineering to get the cafes
back into public consciousness, show why they are hip, make people
see they are something worthwhile and ultimately get people through
is a man on a peculiar mission.
to saving something he sees as the very best of British despite
being largely created by Italians and which is now in his words
'dishonoured, dishevelled and antediluvian.'
He's a massive
fan of classic cafes.
There is fairly
strict criteria as to what qualifies as a classic cafe but generally
he's talking about timewarped dens, clad in Formica, selling
cheap tea and milkshakes and offering a glimpse back into the
And the two
main hotspots for such places are London and Scotland.
explained his enthusiasm. "Cafes sum up all that's great
about Britain, our talent for decrepitude. We're not very good
at adult stuff like the Germans or the French, nothing works
in this country. But we have a genius for things like tatty seaside
resorts, old barber shops and classic cafes."
to love cafes as a child in the Midlands. He explained, "My
grandmother worked in catering and when we she took me shopping
we'd always pop into a cafe and she'd know the people working
there. I remember the colours and patterns and familiar warmth.
When I was first taken into cafes as a child I felt it was the
future. It was like Disneyland in Formica."
Many of the
cafes first opened in the 1950s were run by Italian immigrants
with every family member working in some capacity. Adds Adrian,
"A great love emanates from these places and the families
that run them. That's especially true in Scotland. "Classic
cafes have a heart and that's very important to me."
Some of the
first cafes were established in Scotland by Italians who had
walked across Europe from the poverty of Italy in the late nineteenth
Dino's in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, the University Cafe in
Byres Road, the Queen's Cafe near Queen's Park still survive
and make it on to Adrian's top ten cafes. The top ten and lots
more information are on Adrian's website www.classiccafes.co.uk
Adrian, a former
rock journalist, was working as a web editor at the BBC when
he first set up the website in 1999. He said, "I first set
it up as a hobby after trying to get other projects like a TV
documentary off the ground for years. It hit a raw nerve and
the reaction has been overwhelming."
A book, also
titled Classic Cafes, followed. Its focus is London's classic
cafes, especially Adrian's favourite - the New Piccadilly Cafe
just off Piccadilly Circus. But like most of the cafes in the
book and on the website it is set to close soon.
"The New Piccadilly is on the most expensive piece of real
estate in the known universe. It's been coveted by developers
for some time. "All classic cafes are dead men walking."
One of the
reasons the cafes are closing is that the children of the Italian
families that run them aren't so keen to take up the reins.
lays the blame squarely at the feet of the big coffee chains
that have moved into High Streets across the UK in recent years.
He said, "It's
an economic blitzkrieg. They won't be happy until every street
in Britain is an identical mall.
move into the High Street, push up rents and pay lip service
to diversity. It's time to say no and protest and answer back.
cafes is a deliberate piece of cultural engineering to get the
cafes back into public consciousness, show why they are hip,
make people see they are something worthwhile and ultimately
get people through the doors."
there are about 500 classic cafes left in the UK and that number
is dwindling rapidly.
might write him off as a Hornby-esque obsessive but his is a
noble cause and he's committed to it.
If the day
dawns when the only choice on the High Street is between burgers
and lattes rather than egg and chips and a cup of tea people
might realise he was right.