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Morelli booths, Broadstairs

Hastings moderne caff on the seafront circa 1963

Sometimes, the very best classic cafes lie beyond London. The quintessential components are often seen to great effect scattered along the coasts of Britain and even in the backstreets of Spain, Italy and Portugal. For a brief appraisal of some classic continental coffee bars in Menorca, Palma and Sitges click the link below

   MMorelli's Cappuccino, Broadstairs


Morelli's is one of the only original 50s coffee bars left in Britain. It opened in 1932 and was redesigned in 1957 in sensurround Formica, vinyl and Lino. It hasn't changed since. It retains nearly all the original leatherette seating and walling - and even a small fountain - but the main feature is the amazing relief ceiling design. Portmeirion in Pink Formica! The Morelli chain covers all of Britain but no other outlet has the character of Broadstairs (the Welwyn Garden City branch is particularly nasty). "Morelli's have 65 years of experience running ice cream parlours. Marino Morelli the Managing Director has over 35 years experience of the catering trade and is determined that Morelli's Cappucino remains the foremost caterer in the country in terms of quality and service. To this end there is no compromise when determining customer satisfaction."

- Morelli's ceiling detail


   Connaught Cafe, Worthing

Connaught: Worthing's greatest lounge-booth caff experience

Connaught Corner House, Marine Parade, Worthing
Gradually coming into its own alongside the covert Victoriana of Broadstairs and the bohemian patchiness of Hastings, 'sedate, cosily geriatric ' Worthing has just enough alt.architecture diversions to justify a visit. Of particular note: the Edwardian cinema on the seafront; the red & white deco theatre; the bracing 30s pier and one lost old street that seem to have been shipped in from New Orleans. This cluster of enclaves alone makes a voyage worthwhile for lovers of mouldering modern British architecture. Make no mistake, Worthing has more than its share of rancid 70s developments - most of them splayed out around the disgusting town approach from the railway station - but every corner has some engagingly tatty Regency remnants to fortify the eye. This English seaside leftover seems to have been pretty well ignored since Harold Pinter briefly and inexplicably lived there for a year in the early 60s: "He moved to the Regency house in the... sedate, cosily geriatric environment... of Worthing in 1963, where he wrote the script for The Pumpkin Eater for Columbia Pictures and The Homecoming for the RSC... 'it was a rather lovely house (says Pinter) bow fronted... in the only part of Worthing that is really attractive, a street called Ambrose Place very close to the Connaught Theatre...' " NB: Avoid both Macari's ice cream parlours. Only the above-counter menus/murals are of interest.



Harbour Bar [Sandside, Scarborough] NEW
Famed for serving some of the best ice cream in the country, Giulian Alonzi's Harbour Bar is almost unaltered since opening in 1945. With decor described by The Times as, "a sunburst of yellow and white, a banana split recreated in Formica" the walls are lined with mirrors and slogans 'Get your vitamins the easy way', 'Eat ice cream every day.'" The Alonzi's settled in Scarborough in 1896 and the old milk bar is thriving. Says Giulian: "We're busy all winter here. In the summer, people come to enjoy themselves. In winter, they come to enjoy the place."


Brucciani's [Morecambe] NEW

Built in 1939 (originally as a milk bar, causing much consternation amongst the local worthies) Brucciani's typifies the 'high street deco' style popular at the time. The brown wood and chrome exterior boasts black lacquer base panels, porthole lamps above the doors & ziggurat doors. The interior preserves extensive wall panels Formica tables, red upholstered chairs, wall-to-wall etched glass, mirrors and deco clocks. That most Art Deco of confections the Knickerbocker Glory is still served throughout the summer...

Hart's Restaurant [Morecambe]

"The sort of place where the waitresses still wear French uniforms and an orange juice comes in a glass with a doily beneath... A trip to the gents leads you past the deserted upstairs ballroom. On leaving you're presented with a ticket with 50p off the cost of your next meal. If I ever do find my way there again I'm sure I'll find the staff and patrons to be the same - and not aged. Either that or Morrissey, Alan Bennett and Thora Hird will be having lunch." (Ross MacFarlane)

Corner House [Cromer] RIP

Cromer used to be a classic resort in 50s family mode with a great, sweeping pier, inspiring headlands and streets dotted with moribund gems. But the Corner House, shown here, is now an awful gallery and the town has stagnated beyond belief. (The train from London, however, is wonderfully scenic.)

  David's Place [Aldeburgh]

Aldeburgh is, literally, a place apart. Reluctant to fully flaunt its resort trappings it favours a discrete, shabby bourgeois approach as evinced by the odd David's - part caff, part junk shop, part pub, part smuggler's cove - on the main street near the restored cinema and maze of pubs lining the beach.


Rendezvous Cafe: painting by Emma Holiday

Rendezvous Café [The Promenade, Whitley Bay] NEW
"Totally unchanged"... "a delight" ... "absolutely fantastic" ... "The Rendezvous is a great cafe right on the beach at Whitley Bay. It's beautifully maintained and run with all sorts of ices on the menu as well as hot chocolate, cheese and tomato sandwiches ­ the odd bucket and spade too! Always warm and friendly after a walk on the beach, it also has amazing views out of the big arched windows. On a stormy day you can sit and drink frothy coffee and watch the sea. I think the same family have been running it for a long time." (Emma Holiday)

Riviera Café [Newbiggin-by-the-Sea] NEW
Frozen in time since before the Second World War, the Riviera Café was developed from a group of cottages which looked out over Newbiggin Bay in the 1930s. Italian shopkeeper Benjamin Bertorelli created the building in stages and it was finally completed in 1937. The café was taken over by his son, Armando, who refused to follow changing fashions over the decades and kept it just the way it was in his father's day. Today it has the same tables, chairs, light fittings and display units that were brought in when it was built. The building remained unchanged, apart from regular decoration throughout the war years, the days of rationing, the rock `n' roll years, 1960s fashions, the Beatles era, men walking on the Moon and robot missions to Mars. The ice cream sold was made to a family recipe handed down through the generations (according to family legend, Bertorelli ice cream was a firm favourite of Queen Victoria) and the coffee was made to a blend Benjamin Bertorelli invented...
(As of Feb 2004, For Sale notices have gone up on the art deco walls of the Riviera and its future is uncertain).

Divalls [Terminus Rd, Brighton] NEW
Possibly the only 'spoon' left in the whole of Brighton, this parlour style place is handily situated right next to the exit of the train station: just come out and look right. A good orange logo hangs over the door and the outside windows are lined with handwritten menus. Divalls is nicely shabby rather than classically authentic, but on a rainy day the atmosphere of crumbling, damp low-life is overwhelming. In the front section, down at heel 'actors' hang around the counter seats. Off the little hallway, a narrow back dining section has 40s style flesh-coloured Formica canteen tables sticking out of the walls. Bad fake-wood laminate covers every vertical surface. Strange doorways lead off everywhere. The centrepiece of the kitchen is a big old 50s cooker. The look of the place isn't quite right but the feel is unerringly accurate: the ghosts of Graham Green and Patrick Hamilton hang in the air and the sheer bitter seediness of the joint really seeps into everything. The address: Terminus Road hits the nail right on the head. Don't visit if feeling 'fragile'.

Cliffs Pavillion: A 60s seaside municipal shangri-la in Westcliff On Sea Essex


Hillside Cafe [Folkestone] NEW
"Run by a Cypriot called Ken who has the smallest voice anyone has ever heard, it is almost a social service to the poor of Folkestone. They open every day, including Christmas. Ken owns a great deal of property which he rents out. He doesn't really need to still be working at the caff, but I think he loves it so much he can't give it up. His son Simon also works there but always says he's just helping out temporarily because actually what he does for a living is 'playing the stock market'. The waiter is a very odd little bloke with a hunchback and a limp who also hands out Christian literature in the street. The seating is simple, almost Shaker-like: fixed high-backed wooden benches varnished to death with plenty of dribbly bits; fixed wooden tables coated in a gorgeous speckled red Formica with obligatory scuffed mug marks. The windows are steamed-up with large puddles of condensation gathering on the wood-effect Formica sills. Weird silvery 'scraperboard' type pictures of European birds on twigs randomly are placed in between hastily cut-out dark red sugar paper notices announcing Sunday Lunch, beautifully arranged against yet more wood-effect Formica. Gurgling noises in the background; small glass cases displaying feeble selections of refreshments. On the wall is a red plastic tray with the immortal words, Counter Service Order and Pay Thank You. The cutlery is basic, unpatterned. The crockery is of that white, almost opaque substance. Mugs always come with a saucer." (Scarlett Rickard)

The Penguin Cafe & Blue Bird Cafe [Marine Parade West, Lee-on-Solent] NEW
"The Penguin Cafe has a certain faux Fifties Mid-West feel. Named Di's Diner on the menu, leatherette upholstered banquettes match the beige marble-effect Formica; the ceiling is light blue. Painted panels show life in Lee in its heyday, the 1860s (sorry 1960s) but the piece de resistance is the frieze above the counter depicting the view across the Solent to the Isle of Wight (complete with plane) from H.M.S. Daedalus... and a penguin floating on an ice floe. There are many refrences to Penguins dotted about; not always subtly! Customers can borrow binoculars to survey the Solent." (S. Ambrose) "The Blue Bird cafe is in the same block as the Penguin and was, allegedly, owned by the same people, the Valentes. They came from Worthing originally and they had other cafe's along the coast. In the 60s the Penguin and the Bluey were the home for the greasers, who used to put a record on the juke box and try and make a circuit of the HMS Daedalus airfield by way of Stubbington and the seafront before the record came to an end!" (David Scott, May 2005)

Georgina's, Pallister Road, Clacton on Sea NEW
Good plum and cream coloured frontage with hand-painted sign. The interior features one section with faded green booths and fake-wood veneer tables along with a proper caff Beaumont display board. (Another caff on the seafront overlooks the front of the pier from a large windows-on-the-world viewing lounge - doesn't seem to have a name but does have lots of decent tables and chairs. Yet another eaterie - called simply CAFE - inside the large amusement arcade facing the pier has massive deco light fittings which are worth a gander.)

Felpham Boatyard Cafe, Bognor Regis NEW
"East of Butlin's at Bognor is a bizarre area of houses that are converted railway carriages, east of that lies Felpham. The boatyard there has a caff with lots of people (average age about 75) sitting outside, and in, drinking tea out of horizontally striped mugs. The place has stools for perching at tables round the windows and is identically furnished to my parents' kitchen circa 1967: tables surfaced in yellow and brown patterned Formica; chairs and stools covered in a padded brown leatherette. The rest of the decor is also redolent of the late 1960s. The staff were extremely friendly, and fairly young, so fingers crossed it survives. The tea was so good I had another cup!" (Robert Wyburn)

Rossi's Coffee Lounge, Westcliff on Sea
Westcliff on Sea is a superb little seaside suburb just between Leigh on Sea and Southend in Essex. This area is great for moribund-high street action, packed with odd bookshops, thrift stores and old family retailers of all stripes. Above the Rossi lies the 'moderne' styled Cliffs Pavilion, a sizable early 60s arts centre (now somewhat remodelled) located on the landscaped gardens which rise up behind this shrine of Light Refreshment. Wistful views over Southend pier and an exterior/interior combination untroubled for half a century should put this profound masterpiece of wicker, leatherette and lime green Formica high on your hitlist! In January 2003, local Rossi fan Helen Salkin wrote to tell us: "...the new owners/managers have chucked out the original green Lloyd Loom chairs and matching marble-topped tables, does still have various tiled labels such as ICES and SUNDRIES... around 20 years ago, the council threatened Mr Rossi with closure on the grounds that the cliff was collapsing behind his cafe."

   York Gate Cafe, Broadstairs (RIP)


York Gate Cafe [Broadstairs]
RIP Dec 2001
. Paneling, seating and stained glass to die-for with a perfect green bakelite and chrome counter. Has to be seen to be believed. You approach this temple via the old York Gate arch in Broadstairs and it is worth noting the old, tiny cinema that is directly opposite. [Also, try to nip into the sun lounge pleasure park cafe via the street running down past the cinema. Inside the dance hall are a beautiful array of old red leatherette seats and chairs. Mostly used by the genteel pensioner populace and gobsmacked visitors. Foul food served.] A great change from the scum emporia of other Kent seaside cafes. The York Gate is a place apart.


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