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Rossi, Spitalfields


Common and uncommon queries concerning cafe matters...


Why no Burger King listings?
Our only interest is environments harking back to the 'contemporary' designed cafes common in Britain through the 50s & 60s. Not anything with the word 'cafe' is worthy of inclusion. We particularly deplore the trend in several recent compendiums to include every twee teahouse, burger joint and would-be brasserie springing up round the country. A classic cafe has to partake of the key elements outlined in the 'essentials' section.

Why not grade cafes according to the menu quality?
There are guides already devoted to food ratings. Loaded magazine in 1999 did a cafe cover issue but focused on the grill dishes being served. Again, our main concern is the preservation and celebration of the interiors and exteriors of those cafes that have architectural and atmospheric merit. The food is largely immaterial. How it's served and the surroundings are the prime concern here. Those are the things that will vanish forever. Rubbish grub will always remain.

Cafes are disgusting - full of crazies and oldsters?
This is the great point in their favour. A really good cafe will almost be doomed by its own social isolation. The more palsied pensioners and day-release twitchers the better. An Edward Hopper mood should ideally prevail - all customers somehow thrown apart in the intimacy of the cafe. A feeling of crushed romance and brief escape should be uppermost. The best cafes have in common a feeling of melancholy condensing on the windows, of looking out and watching the world outside, things happening elsewhere. The cafe should be a place for incidental people and incidental music. Anywhere NOT full of graphic designers & Hoxton crop heads in combats sounds good to us.

Why concentrate just on London?
Because it's the only city that has more than half a dozen cafes left that can be examined as an architectural genre in their own right. I appreciate your town might have some caff action but unless it conforms to our rigorous standards and unless you send pictures and a full run down then we're probably never going to get round to including it. And of course... This is a local site for local people.

How about a map with the exact location of each caff - what about a search function?
A key part of the mood that appeals about these places is finding them by accident, the not-noticed quality is something I very much want to preserve. Most street locations are given anyway, just walk up and down the street and keep your eyes open. Also... the rate of attrition is accelerating each year so by the time you try to look out a particular place it's likely to have been demolished. I also want to encourage visitors to plough through all the review sections and spot any places near to them and others they might not have thought of. All part of the service. Also, by raving about the Pellicci in Bethnal Green so much we've found the place overflowing with undesirables and Nathan 'C***' Barley types noncing about with their mobiles, iMac sized trainers and 'Hoxton-Fins' [think lead singer in Travis haircut.] Because of this, the whole site must now be maintained on a need-to-know basis with almost Masonic levels of clique-ishness. For God's sake, tell no-one what you see...

Alright, alright... but didn't Cliff Richard start off in a cafe?
Er, yes. The legendary 2i's in Soho.

Jo Brown, Tommy Steele and Colin MacInnes too?
If you insist.

And what about Kevin Rowland?
El Gino did indeed pen a stomping Northern Soul twister about Formica heaven. It appeared on "Young Soul Rebels" and is called 'The Teams That Meet in Caffs' - ostensibly alluding to Kev's hungry years when he used to marshal Dexys in Brum's greasy-spoons to work out their next swathe of existentialist NME ads. Admirers of the time [1981] may recall being sent fanclub pix of Rowlands' rebels carefully posed in cafes and done up to the nines in general stevedore chic. Clearly the old beauty was way ahead of his time. Good tune too. If you check out the digitally remastered and 'enhanced' CD of "Young Soul Rebels", you'll find it has the Gino video on it featuring some olde caff shots. There's also a rundown about the actual caff the band hung out in - The Appollonia - in Brum.

Look, I'm a St*rbucked Shoreditch Twat, can you make this very, very simple for me?
"The architecture and ambience of [classic cafes] is fast being levelled in a kind of massive cultural, corporate napalming by the big coffee chains... they will not rest until every street in the West is a branded mall selling their wares. Orwell's nightmare vision in 1984 was of a jackboot stamping on the human face forever. If the coffee corporates have their way, the future is best represented as a boiling skinny latte being spilt in the lap of humanity in perpetuity." (Adrian Maddox / The Observer / Aug 1 2004)

Old classic cafes are a breed apart but the coffee combines are deliberately hunting them down. Their flooding of high streets with coffee outlets isn't simply natural economic change ­ it's a planned programme of extinction.

Classic cafes were vital to the (sub)cultural life of postwar Britain. Throughout the 60s London dictated youth culture to the rest of the world and the origins of this ascendancy can be traced back directly to the activities in the cafes of the 1950s.

Music, fashion, film, advertising, photography, sex, crime, the avant-garde... The cafes were the creative enclaves where it was all honed. They added an impassioned European vibrancy to Britain's deflated postwar social, artistic and commercial scene.

Now the corporates are destroying them: they negotiate exorbitant leases, raise 'comparables' (rent levels used to calculate local rent increases) and then put competitors out of business.

The corporates have massive leverage. Their huge marketing budgets, extensive political contacts and unlimited resources give them a blatantly unfair economic advantage over competitors. (For one Leicester Square rental alone Starbucks paid £1.5m. And they will often run expensive sites at a loss to squeeze out opposition.)

Most insidiously, coffeeshop culture is a form of Identity Marketing, the appropriation of next-generation consumers through the targeting of 'progressive' agendas and youth markets. The corporates create 'lifestyle options', engineer 'buy in' and then close down the competition.

The flooding of towns with coffee shops is key to this Identity Marketing. The fall out is retail blandness across the high street. Almost as bad is the accompanying cold, dead brand-speak that counsels: 'Exceed expectations; Have strong values; Reach out to communities' even as it negotiates the rent-rises that will level them.

Though the clones pay lipservice to diversity, corporate mono-culture is on the rampage. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) survey of August 2004 confirms the damage: chain stores that spread "like weeds" are turning traditional high streets into "clone towns"; urban deserts that belong to corporations, not people.

For their far-reaching impact on modern Britain, we owe our grand old cafes an immense debt of gratitude ­ and a serious duty of care.

Keep 'em Classic. Kick out the Clones!


St*rb*cks' brand mantra:

1 Exceed the expectations of your own people.

2 Have strong values, stick to them and use them to guide decisions.

3 Ensure there's no gap between your brand values and your actions.

4 Keep reinventing, but never tamper with the core of what you do

5 Reach out to communities through your people

6 Remember that every detail matters.


"St*rbucks went on to open an average of more than five stores every month in the UK from 1996 to 2000. Prices paid for the prized high street locations spiralled until St*rbucks forked out an eye-watering £1.5m in a Leicester Square rental deal. As the competition struggled to compete, St*rbucks kept running its expensive sites at a loss, prompting accusations that they were using their muscle to unfairly squeeze out the opposition... Its drive for world dominance meant it was becoming a symbol of globalisation, and therefore a target for protestors. Meanwhile, in 2002 Coffee R*public lost £7.5m. Caffe N*ro struggled on under a debt mountain of £7m..."
BBC Money Programme / Feb 12 2003


"Landlords now set such astronomical rents that only multinationals can afford them. But two of the country's richest landowners actively discriminate against the corporates. The Mercers Company, one of London's biggest landlords (it has owned much of Covent Garden and eight acres of the City since the 16th century), forbids chain stores on its streets. It is wooing independent shops by offering them incentives, such as a 15% rent reduction. "If we allow Covent Garden to be another high street, we would be competing with every other street in Britain" Michael Soames, the company's surveyor, said recently.

Howard De Walden, the estate that owns much of London's Marylebone, is also spurning the chains. Andrew Ashenden, De Walden's chief executive, has accused councils of ruining their high streets by favouring the highest bidder and not promoting individuality: "The multiples have become so dominant that they have ruined the high streets and taken away their character," he says. "The high street should be a mix and that is something that most local authorities ignore."

Ashenden has also criticised greedy landlords: "They want the strongest covenant and the highest rent, they want instant results and there's no vision. What they fail to realise is that an old-fashioned butcher is a very attractive tenant these days... the big landowners are in a position to change things... we have the power to make landlords and councils see sense, by voting with our feet and purses... if this country's increasingly dreary high streets want to survive, they, and everyone associated with them, need to change tack, pronto, before it's too late."
India Knight, Sunday Times October 17, 2004


"The corporation as an institution, and in particular, the large publicly traded Anglo-American corporation... does one thing very well: create wealth for its shareholders. But it does that at the expense of other interests - human and environmental.

Governments have to recognise that the corporation is a policy tool, not an end in itself. Governments have to ensure an appropriate balance between wealth creation and other interests. They have to immunise themselves to the undue influence of corporations on public policy, and revitalise and re-democratise the systems that protect public interests from corporate harms.
The corporate 'person' (the law recognises the corporation to be a "person") is legally programmed always and only to serve its own interests. In a human, that would lead to a psychopathic diagnosis. Today, pension funds own much corporate stock. The pension funds are legally required to advance the financial interests of the beneficiaries. This leads to the odd scenario where people have little choice but to sacrifice, say, clean air for their children, safe and healthy workplaces, and so on, for their retirements.

We need to regain democratic control of the corporation... we need to work on revitalising the public regulatory sphere, reversing the trend towards privatising and commercialising every aspect of our lives, and reconstituting our international institutions, like the World Trade Organisation in ways that foster fair trade rather than blindly following neo-liberal ideology.
We need to reactivate ourselves as citizens to ensure governments do what they are supposed to be doing. Mine is a call for deepening democracy - there's plenty of room for innovation and creativity and entrepreneurial vigour within that... our democratic institutions should be in control of the corporations... As we move to a society based on a kind of market fundamentalism we ironically come to resemble those totalitarian orders that we think we disdain."
Joel Bakan, award-winning filmmaker and author of The Corporation



1) What exactly IS a Classic Cafe?

2) What Is The New Piccadilly

3) Why are they vanishing & why should I care?

4) What can be done?

5) What's the Classic Cafes book about?

6) How do I get it?




Classic Cafes | Iain Sinclair interview

Classic Cafes | Quentin Reynolds interview

Classic Cafes | Mr Burkeman interview

Classic Cafes | Pellicci interview [ES magazine]

Classic Cafes | Lorenzo Marioni interview

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