Cafe Quotes
Reviews #1
Reviews #2
Reviews #3

Lost Cafes
Seaside Cafes
TV & Film
Top 10
Site News

Original Zippy Grill 'Wimpy' frontage and sign (circa 1999) W12

Joe Moretti: "In 1958 the 2i's was the fuse for the explosion that was to come in the world of UK Rock and Roll... it was a melting pot for musicians... Adam Faith, Joe Brown, Hank Marvin... The 2I's was owned by a nice guy called Paul Lincoln. A wrestler by profession but he loved running a coffee bar... it was just a little café with an old battered piano in the basement in Old Compton street. But it had a soul and a buzz ..."

John Waters: "... the Mod "firms" or street gangs... Each manor had its own caff"s... We congregated in two or three local cafés and pubs... My own particular memories of that era are mainly concerning music... Friday and Saturday nights up West... off to the Coffee Ann in a cellar down the bottom of Wardour St... Early next morning meeting up at the all night café "El Passant" on the Strand (what a great juke box). The thing about the sixties was that everything was so new. The clothes, music, clubs and for the first time we had some money in our pockets to indulge."

Quentin Crisp: "When the class was over he suggested that we should visit one or two of the cafés which he frequented in Charlotte Street. If it had not been for this casual invitation a whole world might for ever have remained closed to me... I could devote two or three nights a week to sitting in one or other of the cafés... my homosexuality was of no consequence... The staff was friendly and unhurried to the verge of immobility. So was the clientele: bookies and burglers, actresses and artisan, poets and prostitutes; and there was an entirely new caste brought into being by the war - deserters..."

Mark Wilsmore: "In the early fifties the Ace Café became the destination for a new breed of bikers - the Ton-up boys. They met in cafés and rock n roll clubs, arranging races on London"s North Circular Road... their uniform was black leather... Government often discussed counter-measures to be taken against these youths now known as Rockers... In the eyes of society at large, however, they remained the very incarnation of all that was evil."

Colin Wilson: "I"d sleep on Hampstead Heath... and cycle down the hill to a little café where I could get tea and bread and dripping for about sixpence, and then go on to the British Museum... (I) was told that a new coffeehouse was opening in the Haymarket, and that they wanted a washer-up... suddenly fate had ceased to harrow me. Most of the other people working there were young drama students, and this was very pleasant... to be around students hoping to become the great actor or actress was tremendously stimulating, and I felt perfectly at home among them, since I was determined to become a great writer."

Adam Faith: "Coffee bars fell into two distinct categories: beatnik - all black polo necks and existentialism; and teeny-bop-beehive haircuts and bobby socks. There'd be a ground floor cafe, with linoleum floors and Formica tables [but] it was downstairs, at night, under the street, that the real action took placethe record industry, fuelled by the skiffle craze, began to explode. But everyone expected it to be a nine-day wonder. The old-timer agents would sit around in their old-timer agent restaurants, shaking their heads, muttering 'It'll all be over in a week or two'"

Christine Keeler: "Eugene (Ivanov) was a Moscow spy who arrived in London on 27 March 1960 to work for Stephen [Ward]. That long-ago day in the smoke-filled Kenco coffee shop when I first witnessed them altogether, all I wanted was some company."

Mandy Rice Davies: "[Ward's] home territory was the triangle made up of his flat in Wimpole Mews, his consulting rooms in Harley Street and his local coffee bar in Marylebone Lane. Occasionally he used another coffee bar favoured by artists who could sketch the nude model provided by the management while they drank their coffee."

"So I came into my kingdom of Soho where I could be as mad as I wanted... in a cafe called The Alex I wrote the day away... The bums of Soho became my family, the cafe my womb. There has been an attempt to romanticise the bohemian past of London and though it sheltered me I found it largely terrifying and sordid... Tearaways, layabouts, lesbians, queers, mysteries and hangers-on. We just sat in the cafe waiting, waiting for another day to kill itself ... the regulars included the would-be poets, the sad girls... kinky men searching for kinky love... I was particularly interested in a man with mauve hair who spoke very beautifully and always wore the same upholstered smile..."

Bernard Kops "The World Is A Wedding" 1963

"I drifted back to Soho... I wandered around the streets as best I could. There was no end of loneliness real, utter loneliness. It dragged in the pit of my stomach. I had been battered against myself until everything inside me had been shattered... In the night-town of Soho I was accepted... In 1954... I visited my family... A great change suddenly came over London at that time. The American civilisation had caught up with us. Everything was speeded up and slicked up. A wave of bitterness and cynicism. The whole surface seemed to be cracking... Cafes that we knew started closing, the leisurely one where artists and anarchists argued all day. Coffee bars were opening in their place. The object was to get you in, make you feel uncomfortable under the harsh lighting, and then get you out. Skiffle swept through the streets... the new crop of restless kids who had been spawned in the war ... We never went anywhere except The Coffee House at Trafalgar Square where they had bad paintings on the walls and good girls trying to look bad ... the would -be writers and the painters had gone the way of all flesh, into the ground. The toll was endless... They were the unable, the unadjustable, the nothings, the unmighty fallen, the unsung, and I was waiting to take my turn. Most of them died alone somewhere, at night in a lonely room, and they were forgotten within days"
Bernard Kops "The World Is A Wedding" 1963

"they found themselves drifting with uneasy excitement up the Strand and into Leicester Square... ambling up and down back-streets till they reached the wholly fascinating land of Soho. Moisture covered the windows of the cafes into which they scarcely dared look... they entered an Italian cafe, and in the furthest corner table ordered small white coffees. They sat saying nothing, scarcely looking or listening, nourishing themselves on the purest air of romance... there were other cafes which beckoned sinisterly and irresistibly and which they had not the nerve to enter. What went on behind the impenetrable curtain of moisture which covered their glass fronts?.. Their next step to the heart of the mystery was to enter a cafe in Frith street... a row of empty tables, a small old man reading a newspaper at one end, and a fat woman brooding over a cup of tea at the other... What a mysterious cosmopolitan aura pervaded their corner of the little Soho cafe! Stanley took from his pocket a copy of Baudelaire's poems and began calmly to read... 'Teeming city! City crowded with dreams!'"
Roland Camberton "Rain on the Pavements" 1951

"After a time Stanley and David became disillusioned with the Cafe Mirandella. What was the point of sitting in there? It was dim, draughty, and empty. Nobody ever came in, nothing ever happened. But over the road there was a most intriguing little place with tubular chairs and chromium fittings and a neat, elegant neon sign outside... 'Terry's'... one dark, sleek haired man [was] seated on a high stool by the coffee-bar; and at the corner table, two astonishingly elegant and ravishingly beautiful young women smoking cigarettes through brightly carmined lips... It was little more than half a room and contained only four black topped tables, half a dozen tubular chairs, and a diminutive bar with three high tubular stools in front of it"
Roland Camberton "Rain on the Pavements" 1951

"Kagaramias led the way into an all-night cafe. They threaded their way among the tables... crooks and ponces, prostitutes during an off-hour, one or two bookies, a bunch of toughs, a few of the homeless bohemians form Charlotte Street ... beneath the electric lights time was excluded over-tailored, brilliantined men lolled about quizzing the pale. nervous waiters ... a fight ... a cut throat razor, thrown loose in the struggle, came flying over..."
Roland Camberton "Scamp" 1950

"Tim's Cafe, whose entrance was squeezed back about two yards from Fleet Street proper into a passage way no wider than a child's armspan. Tim's gave a twenty four hour service... Two men behind the counter were furiously buttering slices of bread, cutting off thin flakes of cheese, frying sausages, feeding the tea-urn .... a waitress hurried swiftly from counter to tables, transferring cups of tea and plates of food in arc-like, unerring sweeps ... you could sit in Tim's twenty-four hours out of twenty four, eating, smoking, reading the papers as they came off the press... It was frequented entirely by men in overalls, their hands covered with grease, by lorry drivers, machine operators, mechanics"
Roland Camberton "Scamp" 1950

"The cafe was one of those old gaffs with a sunken doorstep, a passage at the side leading to a wooden staircase at the back and a yard with an outside lav and dustbin both of which you could smell from the street... the window hadn't been washed since, I should judge, the last English tenant died at the time of the Blitz. There were three pairs of marble tables, a dirty floor, posters on the wall advertising Pakistani films, a counter at the back covered with slopped oilcloth and a door leading to a kitchen from which came a smell of spicy cooking. This was overlaid by a smell in the cafe which was like asthma cigarettes. Reefers, maybe."

Alexander Baron "The Lowlife" 1963

"The caf where it started and ended is still there - it's known as Joe's, of course, although the owner's name is Horace, and the red and cream paint over the windows says Regent Refreshment Rooms or something like that. It has steamy windows with showcards and stickers for cigarettes and soft drinks, dirty net curtains like a funeral parlour and usually an old ginger moggie, too lazy to take a swipe at the flies. Inside, a counter with tea and coffee urns like something off of Stephenson's Rocket, dodgy lightweight chairs and tables of the sort that they break in saloon-bar brawls in cowboy films, and a jukebox so modern that it looks out of date already."
David Stuart Leslie "In my Solitude" (aka "Two Left Feet") 1960

"One of the things I loathed most about school, the army and regular employment was the feeling that I was missing something and that in the pubs, clubs, cafés, dives ... there was some sort of magic practice that I wasn"t able to conjure with... the base of operation I chose was Soho. I'd been there before in the school holiday when my brother, a student at St Martin's School of Art, asked me up for coffee one day. It was instant magic to me, a sort of Disneyland for low-lifers. There was a café they used that was full of artists , poets, amateurs and professional philosophers... It was heaven."
Jeffrey Bernard "Low Life" 1986

"I waited in an unpretentious café at the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street called Torinos, which had been run for fourteen years by Mr and Mrs Minella from Italy and their son. It was pleasantly old-fashioned with tall, arched windows... It had wrought iron tables with marble tops, cups of proper coffee... you could talk for hours over a small cup of coffee and the Minellas did not mind. They were so anxious to keep their customers happy they kept their prices low and were rash enough to allow credit... The goodwill was reciprocated and the tables were usually crowded. There were dark Italians huddled in earnest discussions, suddenly bursting into furious argument... and several pale young artists and poets searching half-heartedly for jobs..."
Daniel Farson "Soho In The Fifties" 1987

"Near to the Oxford Street end of Soho... is a small green painted shop with a window full of coffee cups and pots and strainers... The room is twisted and narrow... Dark hair, dark eyes, sallow-skinned faces everywhere, here and there a low-caste Englishman, and sometimes, if you are lucky, a Bohemian in emerald corduroy, lolling broadly on his chair and puffing at a porcelain pipe. Sit down near him and it is ten to one that you will be engaged in a wordy battle of acting, of poetry or of pictures, before the sediment has had time to settle in your coffee."
Arthur Ransome "The Moorish Café" 1907

"When Fabian reached the café, he opened the door five or six inches, inserted his wedge-like face and looked around. The place was full. After the rain-cooled night air, the atmosphere of the café, heavy with steam and the fumes of Toscani cigars, struck him in the face like a damp blanket...The front part of the café was crowded with shrieking Italians... a smartly dressed Neapolitan, as dark and miserable as sin, made rings with an empty coffee-cup upon a crumpled greyhound-racing programme."
Gerald Kersh "Night and the City" 1938

"The hot egg spilt into the bread as I bit hungrily. We were in a transport café on an arterial road. A gang of boys came in with eagles on their backs and TRIUMPH painted beneath in luminous white letters. One of them wore a shirt spotted with blood"
Nell Dunn "Out with the Boys" 1966

"(milk bars) full of corrupt brightness, of improper appeals and moral evasions sort of spiritual dry-rot amid the odour of boiled milk... The hedonistic but passive barbarian who rides in a fifty-horse-power bus for threepence, to see a five-million dollar film for one-and-eightpence, is not simply a social oddity; he is a portent."
Richard Hoggart "The Uses of Literacy" 1957

"A savage novel of the seedy world of bed-sitters, of all-night cafés, of lives without roots or values..."
Laura Del-Rivo "The Furnished Room" 1961

"Brutal... the seedy-garish world of back-street London. Gelina is a restless rootless girl, beautiful, amoral, a modern siren of doom in a jungle of dance halls, caffs and pubs."
Mark McShane "The Passing of Evil" 1961

"The espresso bars, dingy "dives", the broken-down tarts and actors, the virago landladies, the unwashed sheets - one sees and smells it all"
Times Literary Supplement review 1961

"He pulled on his big leather motor-cycling jacket and went out to his bike They met at a café called Nick's. It was a workingmen's café in the daytime, quite ordinary, but a at night it was different. It acquired for them at least an excitement and glamour. It was the café for the boys on motorbikes. It was like a badge of admittance"
Gillian Freeman "The Leather Boys" 1961

"Then I go into the Black and White at Fleet Street and sometimes my friend comes. I never go down to the place near the Embankment. I did go down there once. You can see what goes on from the window by the top table if you look. It's always warm in the Black and White, sometimes it's draughty. They only shut hour and a half. When it's light I go."
Harold Pinter "The Black and White" 1954

"Up out in Pimlico I went up streets of dark purple and vomit green, all set at angles like ham sandwiches and there were the peasant masses shuffling along in their front-parlour-curtain dresses and cut-price tweeds and plastic mackintoshes, all flat feet and fair shares and I thought, my God, my Lord, how horrible this country is, how dreary, how lifeless, how blind and busy over trifles!"
Colin MacInnes "Absolute Beginners" 1959

"The café was small, a workers" café, used by lorry drivers and road-mending labourers. The place was warm and it was cosy with the smells of cooking and the feeling that the place was so often full of humanity. The huge chromium tea-container rose gleaming from the counter... and cups of tea hit the counter top, overflowing and making seas of orange tea, through which silver and copper coins were wetly pushed. Outside the main road hummed and roared with traffic"
John Bratby "Breakdown" 1960

"I fell into a gloomy and defensive frame of mind. I travelled to Leicester Square and found a cheap café where I got egg and chips for one and sixpence. James Dean had died in a car crash. If a far-sighted destiny would arrange enough accidents of this sort, the world might be left in the hands of really intelligent people, and thus be nearer the millennium."
Colin Wilson "Adrift in Soho" 1961

"The Cellar Club was a coffee bar down fourteen steps and narrow stairs from the pavement. A dark, damp and disused cellar before the dawn of the Espresso age, it had rapidly been converted by two existential artists... Its seating had been wrenched from the diseased bodies of old buses in breakers yards. Tables were rickety and assorted shapes and sizes...They had ridden high on the wave Espresso enthusiasm...Business had continued to boom. The Cellar Club was a vortex of noise, frenetic movement, and cigarette smoke."
W Howard Baker "The Cellar Boys" 1963

"Pellicci's is a fine, step-down establishment; lace curtains in ice-cream parlour windows, shiny vanilla panels and the name spelled out in generously spaced Univers Medium lettering... family portraits, mirrors and marquetry, inside Pellicci's was a key rendezvous - gossip, fashion updates, subsidised grub - for the firm in its earliest days. Tony Lambrianou remembers it with affection one of the places that the (Krays) used to hold their afternoon meets, a post-siesta trance of cigarette smoke and coffee fug."
Iain Sinclair "Lights Out for the Territory" 1997

"The coffee in the grease caff is very slightly preferable to the tea: it hits like a hammer, a mild concussion, instead of permanent kidney damage. The dead egg slides off a damp white sheet of bread."
Iain Sinclair "White Chappell Scarlet Tracings" 1987

"For the really lonely individual in the city, life becomes a string of disconnected occasions designed to illuminate and isolate his aloneness. Eating by himself in a restaurant he feels conspicuous; he catches the eyes of other lone diners. He calls for his bill with his coffee, knowing he has no further excuse to stay on ... the cipher man of absolute gratuitousness, absolute contingency, the shadow of a supremely lonely shade ... an epigraph from Celine: 'He is a fellow without any collective significance, barely an individual.'"
Jonathan Raban "Soft City" 1974

"wherever you look in Soho you will see a restaurant, Trattoria or Coffee House... and bacon and egg cafés... the decor is loud, shiny and tasteless... they are cheap in every sense of the word. The frightening thought about all this is that these are the places of the future..."
Frank Norman "Soho Night & Day" 1966

"tout, laybout thief - for years this was Frank Norman"s life in Soho. Now with unabashed candour he recalls it all and introduces Gregorious, fat Greek proprietor of the 86 café, a sleazy haunt for pimps and prostitutes, narks and tortured intellectuals... Low life and high laughs in London's Soho... a murky fringe world of cheap cafés, rat-ridden top floor clubs and tart-infested bomb sites drawn with biting authenticity"
Frank Norman "Stand on Me" 1959

"I spent nearly all my life just sitting in the 86 for no reason whatever, except perhaps to wait for someone to come in who would be likely to buy me a cup of tea or a meal, and at night when the 86 was closed I would either kip in the Park or go case with a brass..."
Frank Norman "Stand on Me" 1959

"There is a very good Greek Cypriot place... up the Liverpool Road ... Georgiou's place has a steep flight of wooden steps down to it from the street, covered by an awning, and the outside walls have a vitriolite (sic) crazy mosaic all over them, shiny pastel colours and black. Inside, the walls have murals which incongruously incorporate the room's projections and abutments... So there we sit... in this eighteenth-century cellar, while the smart hairy Cypriot boys preen and look arrogantly in the mirrors... And we talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. As though it could make some difference."
B S Johnson "Albert Angelo" 1964

"those who are frightened of foreign food and wish to eat cheaply have big and rather nondescript places at their disposal... a Lyons' cafe is a thing by itself, neither cafe in the continental sense nor a British teashop nor a restaurant nor a confectioner, but a little of each. It is very cheap, clean and efficient, and it has neat and mostly smiling waitresses but it also gives you a numbing feeling of being no more than a number; a million waitresses serve a million similar pots of tea and pieces of cake to a million customers who ought to be as alike as the pots. But Lyons' great marvel are his Corner Houses. The best known is that in Coventry Street, with its six floors of buffets and restaurants, of marble and mirrors and its never ceasing torrent of customers the most awe inspiring is the one in the Tottenham Court Road, really lovely in lighting and partly in decoration, a dazzling medley of glass, nickel and marble"
Paul Cohen-Portheim "The Spirit of London" 1937

"Plodding through the churned-up black mud, Shorty made his way to the cafe... He closed the door and looked around the room. A familiar sour smell filled his nose.. Sweaty bodies, an open coke fire, coarse dirty fat used for frying eggs... a ring of chairs by the fire... over the fireplace... notices...'Customers are not allowed to sleep in the cafe. Beds are provided at very nominal charges'"
James Curtis "They Drive By Night" 1938

"Moorcock's paparazzo recovers his humanity by drifting down to his favourite caff, Ray's, a time-warp oasis in Snatcher's Island, off Drury Lane. A bolthole discoverable only by strict adherence to the Arthur Machen rules of psychogeographic meandering. "Ray's was a gourmet greasy spoon. He had at least a dozen distinctive kinds of grease, every one of them delicious. And the All-Day Full English had most of them on it - perfect free-range fried eggs, crisp fried bread, best back bacon, tomatoes straight off the vine, fresh portobello mushrooms, Savoy black pudding sent specially from Manchester, tasty baked beans, Fourmantel's Carlisle pork bangers, Trevithick's Cornish butter. If you can think of it, Ray had it. These days he'd be in every restaurant guide in the world, but that was before a mania for populism blew the whistle on our secrets. The only people who went to Ray's were people you didn't mind rubbing shoulders with." Ray's steamy caff provokes a lascivious taxonomy of Bunter comforts, a memory sluice. The great and the good are approvingly ticked off as they stagger into Moorcock's survival module, the ark he is preparing for burial as a millennial tribute: Ronnie Scott, Humphrey Lyttelton, Johnny Dankworth, the actor Freddie Earlle. "Jack Trevor Story introduced me to Billy Strayhorn."
Iain Sinclair "King of the City" (review in London Review of Books) 2000

Return To Top of Page