TV & Film
A brief and constantly changing rundown
of the top London (and beyond) caffs. All of these establishments
are worth seeking out for either atmosphere, location, decor
or accessories. Some even have decent food! Beware: nearly all
are under threat so get there sooner rather than later. Also, here's the full unexpurgated
London Cafe Tour
that was put together for Architecture Week 17 - 26 June 2005...
1a) The New Piccadilly, Denman Street W1 RIP Sep 07
Described by the Financial Times as an "orgasm of searing yellow Formica",
this is truly a cathedral
amongst caffs run by the irrepressible Lorenzo (a true son of
Soho) and his crack team of uniformed waiters. This is the last
of the big hitters left in Soho and one of the largest original
cafes left in Britain: pink Formica coffee machine, big plastic
horseshoe shaped menu, wall-to-wall laminate surfaces and lots
of brilliant booth seating. Even the New Piccadilly menu is a
stone design classic. A place of reverence.
1b) E Pellicci, Bethnal
Green Road E2
The mighty Pellicci. The bollocks!
Best service. Best building. Best atmosphere. Good food. A throwback
to another century. From the yellow and chrome Vitrolite exterior
to the warm wooden interior this is an unbelievable Deco classic.
Every part of this superb caff should be held in trust for the
nation. The jaw-dropping marquetry interior - like something
out of the Empire State Building - was crafted by Achille Capocci
in 1946. See Pellicci's and die!
2) Gambardella, Vanbrugh
The building dates from
the 1930s, but the unique moulded plywood revolving
chairs were installed during the 1960s. Amazing flesh-coloured
Vitrolite and chrome front
section with a red and black Formica back room. A masterpiece.
3) L Rodi, Blackhorse
Splendid old caff that's been with the same family since 1925.
The frontage is somewhat altered
(thought the excellent 'L. Rodi Light Refreshment' sign is untouched)
but the interior is phenomenal. A veritable caff museum.
4) Cafe, Redchurch Street
E2. RIP Oct 06
Ashen Italian patriarch Ronnie runs this brilliant parlour-style
caff like it was the long lost sibling to the old Tea Rooms in
Museum Street. Achromatic Formica tables; ornate 50s wallpaper;
blaring paintwork; rat-run ablutions; proud Thonet chairs; deco
wallposters; authentic pegboard menu; chugging dumb-waiter...
Sublime. In an area overrun with lofts, Jake and Dinos lookalikes
and St*rbucks junkies, 36 Redchurch Street E2 is everything a
caff connoisseur could want: antiquated, beleaguered, crummy,
decayed, dingy, doddering, feeble, gimped, ramshackle, rickety,
run-down, seedy, sidelined, spavine, threadbare, tumble-down,
weather-beaten... But beautiful.
5) Golden Fish, Farringdon
Eleonora Ruocco's cosy familial Italian
cafe with its ranks of 1940s rosewood
booths with metal arms is one of the loveliest in London.
6) Alpino, Chapel Market
Only the stylish
serif typeface of the sign above the door indicates anything
special from the outside. Inside, however, this is a wonderland
of fine top-of-the-range period tables and luxury booth seating. The Alpino's plum-patterned
cup and saucer sets are ceramic perfection. (Under threat as
of Mar 2008.)
7) 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
8) River Cafe, Putney
Bridge Approach SW6.
This place has it all: superb vitrolite ceiling, magnificent
blue-tile work, garlanded friezes, murals, excellent wood seats,
full-on Formica tables. A show-stopper.
9) Don's, Lower Clapton
Rd E5. RIP Jun 05
Don's on Lower Clapton Road E5 seems to be perpetually
on its last legs. Says Don fixture and caff classicist Jonathan
cafe's run by the eponymous Don and his Italian siblings (all
in their 70s and from Lucca in the 1930s). They've been there
all their lives. The place sits just around the corner from where
Harold Pinter was born. Don's looks as if it was once a stables
and has an amazing Georgian double-bay at the rear looking onto
a garden. Wooden interior, high ceilings, never full! It's open
til 2.00 pm most days." Places
like Don's offer something you can't get in your quotidian Costa
Coffee: character. There's something terribly classy about it,
even taking into account the nicotine-stained walls, ratty furniture
and faintly grubby atmosphere. Pure genius.
10a) Italian Restaurant,
Rochester Row SW1. RIP
A real find. A great local in a
brilliant little enclave off Victoria. Curvilinear counter in
impressive beige dates from 1953. Classic b&w Formica wall
covering. Absolutely superb.
Corner Cafe, Empress Place SW6. RIP
This is hardcore: seeping bitterness,
brooding desolation, simmering accidie, curdled sourness ...
The Corner Cafe just
delivers! Almost opposite West Brompton tube this is an
Orwellian 1940s humdinger. Amazing brown lacquer benches (which
should be saved for the V&A furniture collections); 60s Formica
tables with a dense dark blue pattern; original steel 40s coat
hooks; flesh-coloured curved counter; speckled red laminate service
area; old tall-boy storage cupboards; stacks of Yellow Pages
stuck in alcoves and a plethora of behind-the-counter detail
too (signs, shelves, serviettes). Within minutes of shakily firing
up the FujiFinePix the owner killed the shoot in a fit of snot
n' snarl. The Corner Cafe comports itself with a sheer rancid
spleen not witnessed since the war years. Quite magnificent...
As of 21 Mar
2005: 'A sign's appeared on the front door announcing that it's
closed for refurbishment and is 'under new management'. The place
now has even more of a Marie Celeste feeling of abandonment.
The Corner Cafe was certainly an acquired taste - like the invariably
stewed tea. The owners didn't exactly create a life-enhancing
ambience, I don't think I ever saw them laugh once. It's inextricably
linked in my mind with a period of 1980s post-graduate unemployment.
I'd sign on at the dole office off Fulham Place Road, before
burning off my accumulated angst with a lengthy stroll through
Hammersmith and Kensington High Street, before circling back
to Fulham Broadway tube. My reward to myself would be a fry-up
at the Corner Cafe, while flicking through the Evening Standard
or a tabloid. Another old-style Italian owned caff in nearby
Jerdan Place disappeared in the summer of 1999 when the area
was redeveloped as the upmarket Fulham Island. The punk-hairstyle
sporting daughter could be found helping out her parents, while
her musician boyfriend lolled around smoking and drinking coffee...'
Euro Snack Bar, Swallow
St W1. RIP Jun 04
A little gem in hidden Soho just
off Piccadilly. Plain in function but a bit of a minimalist gem.
Dark and tunnel-like with a fine frontage and logo, good seating
and neat little counters holding salt and pepper pots on every
Andrew's, Grays Inn
Road WC1. RIP(ish)
The perfect 'plain cafe' - extremely
solid and pleasing all round. Staffed by saints, this place has
a palpable ambience of motherly love. From the bright brown exterior
with its jazzy mosaic tiles to the neatly laid out interior,
the lovely Andrew's remains a beacon for the thronging artisans
of WC1 from nearby Panther House. The comically forgetful service
is a constant as the fine platters of basic well-priced nosh.
(In September 2004
Andrews's interior was completely altered: though the historic
frontage remains intact the ceilings and wall panellings have
changed for the worse. Fortunately the original tables and chairs
Sandwich Bar, Brooks
Mews W1. RIP Dec 06
A hidden gem, utterly overlooked in a lost
mews surrounded by galleries and serviced apartments (and one
of the only surviving London cafes originally listed in Jonathan
Routh's The Good Cuppa Guide of 1966). Amazing sign, good door
handles, brilliant green leatherette seats, worn Formica tables.
Functional and friendly. A model of British utility.
Frank's, Addison Bridge
Uniquely situated above a railway line, this is a superb old
US diner-style place with crumbling
interior, single stool seating and a picturesque Deco counter
Top ten outside London...
1) Morelli's Cappuccino,
Victoria Parade, Broadstairs.
One of only a handful of 1950s UK coffee bars left in existence, Morelli's
opened in 1932 and was redesigned in 1957 in sensurround Formica,
vinyl and Lino. It hasn't changed since. With its swathes of original pink vinyl seating,
a small working fountain and an amazing curvilinear suspended
ceiling, the general out-of-timeness makes the place feel like
a sort of Portmeirion in pink Formica.
"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."
2) Connaught Corner
House, Marine Parade, Worthing.
Worthing seems to have been pretty well forgotten since Harold Pinter briefly lived there in 1963 (and
wrote the scripts for the films The Pumpkin Eaters and The Homecoming).
But the lovely Connaught, with its large curved windows overlooking
the pier, retains a Pinter-esque flavour.
3) Harbour Bar, Sandside,
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".
4) Brucciani's, Marine
Built on the eve of war in 1939, Brucciani's typifies the simple,
street deco' popular
at the time. The brown wood and chrome exterior has black lacquer
base panels to the street, porthole lamps above the doors, ziggurat
pattern doors, classic deco handles and original menus.
5) Kings Cafe, Elmbank
Scots-Italians can trace their history back to the mass migrations
of the late 1800s. Many remained in the port cities of Glasgow, Greenock and Edinburgh, opening
shops and serving dairy ice cream direct from barrows with shouts
of 'Gelati, ecco un poco' (consequently becoming known as the
'Hokey Pokey' boys). Italian cafes subsequently sprang up all
over Scotland. This is one of the finest (along with Queens
Cafe), loved by
many for its startling turquoise deco exterior.
6) Dino's, Sauchiehall
Dino's hadn't changed in at least thirty
years but has now had a dodgy refit: "You
can still see the essence of its former glory but something has
been lost along the way. Thankfully, the big spoon survives"
says Anne from http://www.ilike.org.uk
7) Venice Cafe, Ayr
Street, Troon. RIP
Was completely untouched since the 1950s. Absolutely gorgeous
inside, with lovely geometric Formica tables and little booths.
Now gone. A real shame. "The Pavilion
http://www.ilike.org.uk/photos/cafes/pav_new.html is the only
café with original decor left in Troon now."
8) University Cafe,
Byres Road, Glasgow.
Matriarch Rina Verrecchia has been looking after generations
of regulars since 1952 and her three sons (and some grandsons)
work here too. Devotees revel in the Edwardian tearoom meets
1950s ice cream parlour feel.
9) The Koffi Pot, Welling
High Street, Welling. RIP
Dates from the 1930s and retains an unusual collection of coffee
pots - all sizes, shapes and colours - displayed on a long shelf
over the counter. The large
interior is a fantasia
of lustrous frosted lemon and lime Vitrolite set off with original
ceiling fans, neon strip lights and a pair of beautiful old fashioned
stick-on-letter wall menus.
10) Divalls, Terminus
Road, Brighton. RIP
A dingy, parlour-style cafe next to the town train station, this
remains the sine qua non of lost, languishing resort cafes: a
battered orange logo above the door, outside windows lined with
hand-written menus, flesh-coloured Formica canteen tables, cankered
fake-wood laminate on every wall.
Regent Omelette Bar
& Restaurant, Meadow St, Weston-super-Mare
"suitably dilapidated and on the periphery of a down-at-heel
shopping area, its beautiful tiled exterior defiantly faces the
massive plate-glass windows of McDonald's: padded leather seating,
wooden interior, white-aproned staff, proper tea (out of an urn)...
most of the customers seem to be care-in-the-community cases."
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. The same family have been running it for a long
time." (Emma Holiday)
The Gorge, The Woolmead,
Farnham Surrey NEW
A key hangout in this art-school town for decades, the unlikely-looking
Gorge is built into a drab arcade with little to indicate the
nature of its full-on alpine-exotica interior. All of the wall
surfaces are covered in sculpted fake snow so that the place
looks like it's been hacked out of an Arctic drift and lined
with dozens of little wood n' leatherette booths. (There's even
an ice water-fall feature in the doorway). This is one of the
wildest derivatives of the 1960s 'chalet' styling craze left
in the country. Be warned: the service can be gobsmackingly inept.
Cafe Riviera, Quay Wall,
Threat Feb 2004
For Sale notices have gone up on the art deco walls of Cafe
Riviera, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and its future is uncertain.
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... "
Tonibell Snack Bar/Ice
Cream Bar on 35 Shenley Road, Borehamwood WD6. NEW
Mr Seb Brennan
writes: "It's about 100 yds from Elstree and Borehamwood
station and is a cracker. All that's left of their 1950s cornet-based
empire is this double fronted cafe on Shenley Road: nice facia,
leatherette banquettes. Maybe when it gets knocked down to make
way for a Chicken Cottage the nice people at BBC Elstree can
cart the remains round the corner and re-erect it in Walford."
Tonibell was started in 1937 by Italian-born
Toni Pignatelli and his Scottish wife. Known as Tonis, it consisted
of a small ice-cream manufacturing plant in a shop in High Street,
Burnt Oak, Middlesex. The products were sold to the public from
the shop window. Twelve years later the couple's son Ronald,
who had changed his name to Peters, joined the business. The
name Tonis was changed to Tonibell in 1960 because competitors
began using Tonis name and colours. All vehicles were painted
blue, and Tonibell's cow symbol made its debut with a new jingle
that was specially written for the chimes. In 1969, when Lyons
bought the company, Tonibell had eighteen depots and four franchise
depots covering the whole country. The business was, essentially
a franchise operation and 500 vans were involved in taking ice-cream
to housing estates and other high density areas. In addition
they had 15 ice-cream parlours, mainly in the London area, and
again operated under franchise arrangements.
Road - Caff
& Milk Bar
in Eastbourne lies in that archetypal moribundia
address, Terminus Road a treasure trove of classic caffs.
It has an unusual, and apparently, original grey frontage from
its opening back in 1947 but inside only the battered white banquette
seating survives from the 40s. Atmosphere is nonetheless richly
appealing to moribundia aficionados. Can't wait to return on
a wet November afternoon! At the back of the caff is a collection
of photographs of various Notarianni's in their heyday (this
was a chain, mainly in the north of England.) The manager told
us that a few survive: in Blackpool, Scarborough and other towns.
Just up the road on the other side is a magnificent branch of
a more familiar south coast chain, Macari's, happily retaining
many of its original features: Splendid green and red wooden
banquette seats, Formica tables, 1960s opening and closing-time
clocks and a gorgeous street sign with a full colour knickerbocker
glory (a motif repeated on the picture menu in the window.) I
especially liked the Horlicks dispenser which pleasingly survives
even though Horlicks, surely the signature drink of moribundians,
is no longer served. However, the star of Terminus Road is undoubtedly
the Taurus Steak House, next to Notarianni's. The sign
is obviously 60's but nothing prepared us for the total timewarp
interior. The manager told us that it had opened in 1969. And
clearly absolutely nothing has changed since... the place mats,
cruet sets, faded seating, carpet, the menu, take you straight
back to the 60s and a bizarre pebble dash - no doubt very groovy
in 1969 - covers one wall as while tall, conical copper lamps
loom ominously above tables in one corner! (Richard Gray)
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
- lots of people (average age about 75) sitting outside and in
drinking tea out of stripped mugs. The place is furnished with
tables and chairs identical to those used by my parents when
they redid their kitchen in 1967! The the rest of the decor is
also redolent of the late 1960s. The tea was so good I had another
cup!' (Robert Wyburn)
Milk Bar, Edgware Rd W2 RIP
cafe in mint green Vitrolite. Large and popular and with a great
jaunty feel. The walls, the tables, the flooring - everything
about this caff [was] remarkable...
Ave W1 RIP Oct 1996
Great seats, lights
and floor. 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 1940s 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. The Valoti
was very much loved in its prime and, along with the fine 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.
Cafe, St Cross St EC1 RIP
Hugely sad news that
the wonderful old St Cross St
Cafe has been demolished. The place was one of the finest
caffs left standing off Little Italy's Leather Lane. It was always
a welcoming little eaterie, running the kind of real family operation
that was a stamp of these kinds of Italian caffs (staff would
often dispense free teas at Christmas time.) The joint had a
superb fascia with huge green art deco lettering, net curtains
on the doorway, multiple signs and meus in the windows and brilliantly
individual little rosewood and leatherette seats throughout.
A large mural of some Italian beach landscape overlooked the
smallish - and always packed - eating area. Also gone, as the
developers continue to devastate the entire EC1 area, is the
St John's Cafe [Jerusalem Passage EC1] which had a great rickety
old frontage, old seating and tables throughout and was hidden
in a lost alleyway.
Sea Breeze, High Street
E17 RIP Nov 2003
Behind the cut-glass front door there's a remarkable
interior with large black and brown booths, astounding
light-fittings and masses of Mondrian-coloured Formica panels
throughout. A must-see.
Chez Monique, Gate St
W1 RIP Jun 2002
||RIP May 2002 Almost a 70s caff but saved by the quality of
Orange Formica booth seating and the good chrome counter. Every
town - every STREET - should have a local caff of this quality.
In Italy, Portugal, France and Spain they do. The Monique 'look'
should be cloned and one launched in every high street in England
every week for the next century.
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.
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