All of the cafes below have disappeared,
been re-fitted or left derelict in the last few years, 1998-2000.
An average of six per year are vanishing as the price of leases
rockets or the owners move on.
The future of many cafes hangs in the balance.
Within a few years nearly all of London's
best establishments will be gone. 1999 alone saw the closure
of the Monaco, Alfredo's, Norrman's and
Gino's - a black year indeed for caff lovers. Here, for
the record, is a rundown of other much missed premises.
& George, The Market Cafe, Spitalfields (Pic: Daniel Farson)
Market Cafe [Fournier
Gilbert & George's local caff,
just to the side of Christ Church. The pair spent much of the
1970s and 1980s frequenting the place - a Spitalfields Huguenot
house where a doctor once lived. Clyde Armstrong took it over
in 1947 and had hardly touched it in all the time he was there.
Gilbert and George, at one point, helped run the business and
served customers as trade from the surrounding markets crumbled.
"It was like Rules," claimed Gilbert, "only much
better and cheaper." Gilbert & George are also regulars
at Rosa's Cafe round the corner in Hanbury Street, where Bud
Flanagan once lived above the shop. A small display of music
hall ephemera - and Gilbert and George photos - still lines one
wall. The Market Cafe's passing is utterly symptomatic of the
ruination of old Spitalfields as swathes of marauding Hoxtontots
move in (Tracey Emin also has a house round the corner). With
each week, the area gradually turns more and more into and an
identikit Camden/Portobello clone. A feral dose of 'NoLogo' activism
is urgently needed if the unique timbre of the area is not to
Ristorante & Patisserie RIP
Both wiped out in Feb
2005. The Ristorante was right on the main Cambridge Circus tourist
drag and easily missed, but it featured an extraordinary upstairs
trattoria hung round with cod Italiana and decorated with splendid
dark murals. Downstairs was an amazing basement section done
up like a 50s-liner cabin (all the woodwork installed by Alberto,
the proprietor). Above the shop was a constantly red-lit knocking
shop which added handsomely to the atmospherics. The patisserie
nearby had a part-paneled chalet interior serving own-brand cappuccinos.
Alberto always claimed to have introduced not only pesto to Britain
in 1962 but also the powdering of cappuccinos with cocoa.
(The whole area is being 'developed' to make away for apartment-hotels
- apparently on the basis that they will deter local undesirables.)
Zita (Ida's) [232 Shaftesbury
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
Road W2] RIP Sep 2004
Absolutely beautiful. Just down from where the Regent Milk Bar used to be, this longstanding local features lots
of green and cream Vitrolite and an original Deco counter with
stylish moderne lettering. All the original Deco mirrors and chair sets remain along with brilliant coloured
Formica tables and smart old celing fans. (Joe Strummer and Paul
Simenon were regulars in the late 1970s and the old place briefly
appears to no great effect in the execrable Clash vehicle Rude
Andrew's [Grays Inn
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.
Lido Bar Cafe [Great
Castle Street W1]
Similar to the
Bonbonniere: a large seating area, walls covered in murals, fancy
lighting over the counter, pseudo-chalet half-timbered beaming
everywhere and so-so seating and tables. Best facets are the
excellent blue awnings and external signage in a 50s vein. Queues
round the block most lunch times.
ValTaro [Kengly Street
Plain interior but the brown leatherette
bench seats and huddled, rueful ambience qualified it for 'classic'
status. The wall menu and paintings on the back wall added some
atmosphere. Service was invariably spectacularly rancid.
Euro Snack Bar [Swallow
Great forgotten hideaway that nestles
in Swallow St off Piccadilly - wonderful sign and front that
hides a bijou scoutmaster green interior with several small booths.
A true find in a tourist-tack dustbowl...
Piccolo [Eldon St EC2]
Almost next door to the Copper
Grill. This narrow cafe has
an unusual basement that has classic chalet-style
decor throughout. Both upstairs and downstairs sections retain
the original Swiss light fittings and snow cave wall texturing.The
Piccolo and Copper Grill are like brother and sister. Voyage
out to the rear of Liverpool St station and investigate them
Parma [Seymour Place
The main window bay appears to date from the 1900s
and is completely unchanged from the days when it was probably
an Edwardian shopfront. The original 50s cafe signs in the panes
remain intact - a real rarity for this part of town. The sills
are full of choking old plants above which hang three large beguiling
chalet lamps. As if this wasn't enough the doorway is of original
mid-century design with a fine circular handle and a cheery coloured
'Open' sign quite unmatched anywhere else in central London!
Hooray. The interior is all dark steamy oppressive fake wood.
A very good selection of Formica tables but, unfortunately, no
matching seating - on this occasion we'll let this pass as the
Parma's compensating charms are overwhelming. We particulary
like the grand tea-boiler fronted by a small breakfast bar with
two swivel stools. And best of all, the Parma is tucked into
a pretty London street-that-time-forgot. Well worth a long, drawn
RendezVous [Maddox St]
Aurora & Gino retired as the lease expires. A must see establishment, the RendezVous was one
of the greatest little finds in central London with its
trademark Espresso Bongo-like sign outside and a domestic living
room interior featuring a bay-fronted window, covered tables,
excellent wooden chairs, hanging lamps, counters and lashings
of warm Formica on the walls.
The fine tile flooring and panel ceiling
were cherry on the cake. Classic
Cafes fan Richard Gray: "The RendezVous, with its clientele
of solitary office workers having lunch, instantly transported
me back to the 1950s London described in the novels of Barbara
Pym - a deceptively genteel writer who often includes vivid descriptions
of eating alone in cafes around Holborn where she herself worked."
Sea Breeze [239 High
This little gem used to be stuck
up at the tube end of Walthamstow market (as did several useful
caffs now lost over the years.) Behind the etched glass door
lay a fantasia of Formica: large brown booth seats looking vaguely
space-aged; large coloured Mondrian panels on every surface;
superb wooden light fittings... a real live working and breathing
classic in the heart of E17. Now shamefully replaced with a wretched
fried chicken outlet. With the Tea Rooms on Museum St
closing in January 2004, the Copper Grill in Eldon St
being demolished next summer and John's on Chalk Farm
Rd already abandoned, a new salvo of shutdowns is obviously on
the cards. Grim.
Remo [Weighhouse St]
Sadly refitted and comprehensively
rubbished. Stills from a Phil Nicholls photoshoot will run here
as a memorial special sometime soon.
Jonnie's Cafe [Floral
"My favourite cafe of all time - unfortunately long since
deceased - near Covent Garden tube. What a place it was! There's
something about an old cafe in winter when it's freezing and
dark outside, and inside the windows are all steamed up and you've
got a plate of egg and chips to tuck into and a proper mug of
tea, made in a pot with tea leaves. In Jonnie's, they used to
keep the loose tea in a greaseproof paper lined drawer. I
guess originally it would have been lead lined, so some concession
to modernisation there. [Jonnie's had a great little tin sign
hanging outside; and a sign inside warning 'Don't use this cafe
as an office!'] " (Paul Woods)
Norrman's, W2 RIP
The unfortunate thing about
a site of this nature is that places vanish overnight. Norrman's
in Bayswater closed in the last weeks of November 1999 (yes,
that's how it was spelt!) and its disappearance came as a terrible
shock. A superb and unusual LA style dive-cafe, with red velvet
seating, it was a triumph of old-style design against the monstrosities
of mall-ridden W2. The lit up wine-glass sign and 50s logo often
seemed to be about the only decent thing standing among the listless,
faceless trinket shops and tourist tat that define the area.s
As with the lovely Monaco in Great Russell St (demolished
December 1999 - see below), this was a particular favourite Classic
Cafes haunt. This site is dedicated to the happy memory of
"For cafe nostalgics mourning
the loss of Norrmans in Queensway, its former manageress recently
opened La Galleria Cafe in Battersea High Street, close to C.
Notarianni's. Not a classic, but it retains an old London dining-room
brown-tiled exterior, and the legend 'Jack Hall's Dining Rooms'.
The cafe's worth visiting for the impressive display of black
and white photos of Hollywood film stars." (Patrick Turland,
Unknown Caff [Shepherds
A once dandy little dive with great
freckled mosaic flooring, lovely booths and an extensive greasy
counter built into a railway arch at the Goldhawk Rd end of the
market . Now mysteriously burnt out and fire damaged.
Silva's [New Oxford
Another sparklingly redundant refit
- the green booths are about all that's left of this once characterful
little pull in opposite opposite Quentin Reynolds' caff styled
Alfred restaurant. The orange-melamine heaven that is the Zita
just up the road is a great substitute.
York Gate Cafe [Broadstairs]
Terrible news that The
York Gate Cafe in Broadstairs has been 'redeveloped.' Fiona
Morrissey writes to say: 'We visited Broadstairs today... too
late to experience the glory of the York Gate: through the white
smeared windows I spied that the place has been completely gutted.
I felt so angry at such lack of pride in our cafe culture. English
Heritage and other groups only seems concerned with preserving
stately homes and gardens, while corner cafes and pubs are laid
to waste.' In April 2001 Mr Jan Siegieda informed us: 'The current
owner has passed the lease over to Thorley Taverns Ltd... Rumours
are circulating that they propose to convert the York Gate Cafe
into a wine bar...' We advised Mr Siegieda immediately how to
make an emergency application to English Heritage but the process
is fraught with problems. As for Thorley Taverns, a plague on
all their houses...
Da Marco [The Strand] RIP
Imposing chalet frontage (a la
The Lucky Spot) with panelled interior and pleasant upstairs
bar on the fringes of Theatreland: "It was always full of
orchestra -pit players and shapely dancers from the nearby Chicago
musical. Every time I went there the small Italian mother in
black (of course) was arguing with her hulking great son. Pure
Sicily! They attempted to rebrand the Full English by calling
it The Builders Breakfast. Sadly, Da Marco closed down to make
way for a restaurant which will, no doubt, cater for those unimaginative
souls who come up to London once a year for all-in Andrew Lloyd-Webber
The Tea Rooms [Museum
Street] RIP Feb 2004
Rina and Eugenio Corsini's Tea Rooms hung on like some skid-row
staging post in the 1960s documentary The London Nobody Knows
(Mondo Cane for Cockneys fronted by James Mason: "the gritty
historic fabric that was London in the sixtiesfacets of London
life long since forgotten: street markets and their entertainers,
residential slumsthe toughness of what it was to be homeless").
Notable for its refraction of two previous
centuries of cafe activity: a hint of nineteenth century worker's
snack bar; a dash of twentieth century Lyons dining hall.
Yellowing exterior signage offset by a large
jolly green deco typeface; interior decked out in wall-to-wall
carmine mosaic Formica. Fry ups prepared
on an old war-horse cooker called The London.
[Graham Rd E8]
Easy to overlook but
this place had the classic chrome seaside exterior with vitrolite
panels, a large deco mirror sign above the door and [like Alfredo's
N1] an ice-cream serving hatch. It also had those free floating
thin strips of coloured plastic in the doors that are so redolent
of the 50s. The regulars seem to have shrunk to an ailing selection
of local octogenarians and the equally aged owners could be pretty
awkward but the Savoy had a great seedy ambience of forlorn foreboding.
It's sad to see it closed as crap plastic kebab houses coalesce
all around. The place looks superb just sitting there proudly
on the street.
West One [Wells St WC1]
Much missed little spot highly
favoured by the Classic Cafes team and our legions of patrons,
backers, investors, sympathisers, activists and rampant psychogeographers.
This damn place shut down just as we were on the verge of a major
photo-session there. The West One had several neat plum leatherette
booths, attractive cracking cornices and a family living-room
feel. It vanished overnight in mid-June 2001 with a sad sign
in the window saying the leaseholders had thrown them out after
18 years. Within weeks the inside had been totally torn out.
A polite request: any branches of the disgusting Benjy's chain
out there thinking of polluting the dear memory of this fine
site - we know where you live...
Serafino [Mount St W1]
Mayfair's wonderful LA lounge style
Italian restaurant. Lovely frontage and interior full of old
green banquettes. A little piece of lost London that was forever
[West Smithfield EC1]
Deco stand-up only mini palace. Great
ironwork sign with a startling curvlinear centre table. Magnificent
seats. Easy to miss. Boarded up as of May 2000 only a few weeks
after discovery! The start of the rot in Clerkenwell.
[Leyton High Road, E10]
'Nick's was truly unique, with a "distressed
primary school" colour scheme of thick layered-on-over-the-years
bright blue and red gloss paint. And the all-important
freestanding wooden chairs plus struggling houseplants.
The people who ran it were delightful, with a genuine old-fashioned
courtesy. And there was always a peaceful, relaxed vibe
about the place. A great place for reading the Saturday Guardian
over a prolonged breakfast - and stepping out of time.'
Cafe [Lea Bridge Rd E10]
'It lost it's glorious pale green formica
and chrome exterior and wooden and formica interior and is now
refitted in garish yellow and red with those dreadful joined
together seats in the McDonalds style. Disaster!...'
Cafe [Dulwich Rd/Brixton]
V. good wall-to-wall formica int in blue
[& old Aspro dispenser!] 50 years old- magnificent local
example run by old sisters. Last seen been rejigged as an 'open-mike'
poetry venue - interior ripped out Mar 99! Gutting.
V. good seats, lights
and floor. Good ext. Fair int. Good logo. Long theatrical history
- Audrey Hepburn was a regular. Now a crap brasserie. Vic Valoti
set up his brilliant cafe over the road from Cambridge Circus
in the '40s when a young Audrey Hepburn used to be a regular.
Until the mid 90s it remained an oasis of loud orange tiling,
wonderful high backed dark green booths, Googie style light hangings
and cute coat-hangers. Always on the wrong side of Soho - and
all the better for it - the lease ran out, idiot landlords demanded
savage rent rises and the staff were forced to vacate. Another
location was canvassed to rebuild the caff in, including all
the original furniture and fittings but the plans unfortunately
came to nothing. The whole space was gutted and the crap restaurant
that moved in went bust ruining the landlords into the bargain.
The Valoti was much loved in its prime and, along with the attentive
waitresses, is much missed by the producers of this site. We
especially liked the evening sessions there, the Saturday opening
hours and the fact it was the only place in Soho ever open on
New Years day. The staff of Forbidden Planet took these pictures on Oct 30 1996 a few months before
[Grt Russell St]
The demolished interior of
a once mighty caff. Great exterior sign and panelled interior
and amazing light fittings fixed into the ceiling. Wonderful
and dark. Very Edward Hopper. A very sad end for such a lovely
Now abysmally refitted. Once V. good int.
& curvilinear counter. Green leatherette. Poor food. Revamped
Too [Euston Rd]
V. good basement hidden 70s 'Bedazzled'
Swingin'-Wimpy style. Amusing int.
Now shut. V Good int. and ext. Great sign
logo. Nr Latchmere Theatre.
Inn [Islington Rosebury Av]
Gingham table cloths. Average int. Awful
James Restaurant [Haymarket]
Pews and booths. Very odd Swiss/Tirolean/Chalet
feel? Good sign & ext. Left derelict.
Acropolis [The Cut]
Good lurid red int. Now a trendy fish
[opp. Mile End tube E3]
Location int. in 'Scandal' amazing yellow/black
seaside int. Great seats. Run down ext. Now an estate agents.
Restaurant [Maddox St W1]
Great chalet style restaurant panelled
with great fittings & basement
Lincoln's Inn [Gate St/Holborn]
Late 60s/early 70s. Fair ints. Hidden
in atmospherically seedy back street off Holborn
Grill [79 Shepherds Bush Rd]
Dowdy, dirty pensioner pit but good
sign and fair int.
Cabin [14 Old Burlington St W1X]
Good chalet-style int. Red-check tablecloths.
Dumb waiter. Good staff, v.expensive.
Excellent int. Beautiful panelled upstairs
room 30s/40s style - lovely fireplace & dumbwaiter. This
place had amazing orange Formica tables and the upstairs section
was a throwback oasis of 30s panelling. Sadly missed. The only
consolation is the Express Restaurant cafe which is like a sister
premises just 50 ft down the street. Mayfair is a sadder place
for losing this lovely cafe. Now a ruinous French restaurant
Snack Bar: 148 Fleet St
Looks like a good old newspaper-man's
cafe [as of Jan 99 seems to have vanished]
More > Leftovers:
A Classic Cafes Miscellany
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