Off The Menu - lost cafes of London Town

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Savoy: deserted in Dalston


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.


Gilbert & George, The Market Cafe, Spitalfields (Pic: Daniel Farson)

Market Cafe [Fournier St]
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 be lost.

Cappuccetto Ristorante & Patisserie RIP Jan 05
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 Ave WC2]
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

Metropolitan [Edgware 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 Boy).

Andrew's [Grays Inn Rd WC1]
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 W1]
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 St W1]
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 both.

Parma [Seymour Place W1]
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 out visit.

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." Absolutely.

Sea Breeze [239 High St E17]
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 Street]
"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 them both.

"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, Jan 2005)


Unknown Caff [Shepherds Bush Market]
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 St]
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 Oct 2003
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 weekends."(David Fogarty)

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.

Savoy [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 noir.

Luigi's [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.

Nick's [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.'

Roma 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!...'

Brockwell 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.

Valoti [Shaftesbury Ave]
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 closure.

Monaco [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 premises.

Allington [Victoria]
Now abysmally refitted. Once V. good int. & curvilinear counter. Green leatherette. Poor food. Revamped 1997.

Mogador Too [Euston Rd]
V. good basement hidden 70s 'Bedazzled' Swingin'-Wimpy style. Amusing int.

Latchmere Cafe [Battersea]
Now shut. V Good int. and ext. Great sign logo. Nr Latchmere Theatre.

Angel Inn [Islington Rosebury Av]
Gingham table cloths. Average int. Awful refit.

St James Restaurant [Haymarket]
Pews and booths. Very odd Swiss/Tirolean/Chalet feel? Good sign & ext. Left derelict.

The Acropolis [The Cut]
Good lurid red int. Now a trendy fish restaurant.

Brunest [opp. Mile End tube E3]
Location int. in 'Scandal' amazing yellow/black seaside int. Great seats. Run down ext. Now an estate agents.

57 Restaurant [Maddox St W1]
Great chalet style restaurant panelled with great fittings & basement

Berni Lincoln's Inn [Gate St/Holborn]
Late 60s/early 70s. Fair ints. Hidden in atmospherically seedy back street off Holborn

Acropol Grill [79 Shepherds Bush Rd]
Dowdy, dirty pensioner pit ­ but good sign and fair int.

Little Cabin [14 Old Burlington St W1X]
Good chalet-style int. Red-check tablecloths. Dumb waiter. Good staff, v.expensive.

Gino's [Shepherds Market]
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

Mick's Snack Bar: 148 Fleet St
Looks like a good old newspaper-man's cafe [as of Jan 99 seems to have vanished]



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