cafe miscellania

  • from Kieran

    i used to work as a dispatch rider in london and went to hundreds of cafes and i've seen some of my old faves on your website. i wonder if you can help me find a real gem.... it was a small cafe run by an ex-boxer in his late 50's and had old b&w photos of boxers/fights/promo posters all over the place and i mean from skirting boards to ceilings. the food was good but the character of the place and the people there was awesome. all i can remember is that it was in it's own small building in the greenwich area on a desolate industrial estate. it'd be great to re-visit or see a review cheers and thanks for all that dedicated eating

  • from Clare

    It may be too far out of the west end for you, but I have a haven of greasy spooned-ness at the end of my road. YORK CAFE on Woolwich Road is clean, friendly and with proper chips. It is even licensed I think. Give it a go!

  • from Lambros

    TJ's Cafe in mortlake sw14 open seven days a weeks, big portions!! cheap. you should definatley visit this place won the "best greasy spoon" in london award 2003

  • from The Shropshire Cafe

    Russell how come we have not seen you at our cafe you are missing a treat. We serve the best all day breakfast in the North West We cater for everyone also we are in the process of taking on the title of the Ace Cafe of the Midlands Regards Lynn & Pete.

  • from Dave

    May I heartily recommend Sues Cafe in Gillingham Road, Gillingham, Kent (almost opposite the Arriva Bus Depot). Great food, great tea............very good prices for such good quality breakfasts and dinners.

  • from Abby

    The mess in Hackney is much nicer (and admittedly middle classer) than it's local counterparts (nice sausage rather than pig's bum). Some say it's better than Mario's... Alt for a good proper greasy spoon Dilari's on the corner of Mare Street is pretty good. Packed out every lunchtime and they have a non-smoking side of the room. Finally, if you live near Ealing and you've never been to Starvin' Marvins you're missing out. I was cautiously eating my breakfast with the pancake and maple syrup on one side and the bacon and eggs and hash brown on the other. Then absentmindedly I stabbed a bit of bacon onto the end of my syrupy pancaked-up fork… It's manna from lardarse heaven.

  • from Emma

    I love yr book and website. I have never commented on one or a blog before as I dont know how to. My son got this space for me. I am trying to get info on my favourite old cafe, The Blue Sky, by corner of Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Rd,London W2, between PAddington and Portobello Rd, which was my home from home from 1974-80.I lived in various squats and flats nearby and hung out with various groovy people in those days.... It closed down a few years ago. I wld love to get photos and the name/address of the lovely Irish waitress and Italian boss.... I have tried the Archives at Westminster City Library but no luck. I am doing a Ceramics degree as a v mature student and want to do an installation recreating a table at it, the light coming thru steamy bright plateglass windows, the smells, food, china,plastic menus, etc etc. I have assembled a load of stuff (tables, chairs etc),but they are not perfect. I wonder if you have any ideas on where I cld borrow/hire perfect stuff in one fell swoop, for a few days in early Jan 07? Most of all I want to get hold of a tape/CD of cafe background noises. Any ideas? Many thanks, Emma

« Kays Cafe, Halifax | Main | Marylebone Cafe, Marylebone Lane »



Hi Russell

I think the idea of a preservation society is an excellent one. I bought Adrian Maddox's book last year and have been doing my best to tick off a visit to each of the London ones, however I've found a "thank you to all our customers" gone out of business sign on more than one occasion.
The London pools campaign organises a "Great Swim" every year in which they visit various outdoor pools around the country and this year one group cycled around all the London ones to raise awareness about pool closures. Perhaps a model that cafe lovers could adopt?


russell davies

Excellent idea. I really like that. Support seems to be building.


This is a brilliant idea.

Perhaps a "Campaign for Real Ale" -type society/pressure group may be a way forward.

However, at the risk of sounding like a wet-blanket, I have to say that I am more in favour of some form of group that supports the independent cafe as a whole, rather than one that specifically aims to preserve cafes of a particular period. We have to keep the chain coffee-shops from continuing to increase in number.

I am against the over-romantic approach that tries to preserve places in aspic, this is unrealistic. At the risk of sounding like some New Age psycho-babbler, everything has a cycle of youth, maturity and old-age.

The classic cafes of the 1950's and 60's as highlighted by Adrian Maddox are coming to the end of their natural life. There are some fantastic places of this type, but you can't stop the wear and tear of fixtures and fittings, which need to be replaced and renewed when they get too dilapidated.

If this doesn't happen, the cafes slide into slum eateries, lose more customers, go rapidly into absolute decline, and eventually close. There are quite a few of this type on the "Classic Cafes" gazatteer, and it's sad to see.

One of the great things about your cafe sites is that they focus on independent cafes of differing eras and styles. This is the best way forward.

Anything that gets more people, especially the under 30's , thinking about where their disposable income is going, would be a start. If more people would think twice about spending in a bland corporate coffee chain outlet, and perhaps instead spend their money in a small, independent cafe, the expansion of the chains would start to slow. Better still, their growth could possibly be stopped, or best of all, put into reversion. This would give the small cafes a better chance of survival.

If the idea of going into a Starbucks, Pret, Caffe Nero etc. was seen as being as bland, dull and unimaginative as the places are themselves, they would start to lose market share. I've visted all these places in the past, especially when they first appeared, as they seemed ( laughable as it seems now) to be quite a novelty.

The difference between profit and loss for many cafes, is quite small. The big chains, especially Starbucks, have expanded rapidly, possibly too quickly, and have quite a few of their outlets which are either loss-making, or just breaking even. The profitable outlets are used to subsidise the others, in an attempt to gain market share, and eliminate competition.

A relatively small decrease in custom could make more of the chain outlets unprofitable, and stop their advance in the High Street. It's like ju-jitsu, where you turn the size and strength of your opponent against himself.

I'll give the matter some more thought, and get back to you with more ideas. I was in both the Regency and Tevere in S.W.1 today, and was thinking about how much character these cafes have. Nothing lasts for ever, but let's not allow these places to prematurely go under.

I'd be prepared to act as a volunter to help collate a list of worthwhile cafes, especially in Central London, which should be the first area to be assessed.

I'm on a new e-mail address at present (see below) due to computer problems.

I'm a valuation surveyor, and my profession plays a prime role in clobbering small businesses of all kinds with hefty rent increases. I feel some sense of personal guilt about my past involvement in granting new leases to the wannabe KFC/MacDonalds/Burger Kings that disfigure so many areas. Incredibly, these are even worse than the originals !!!

I'll be in touch soon.


russell davies

I'm with you on all of this. It's not just about nostalgia and the 50s, 60s, thing. It's also about an ambience that you can get in a little independent cafe with garish plasticy 90s fittings. It's about the people and the food, not just the formica.



I'm still thinking about the whole issue, and will probably post to your personal e-mail.

It seems slightly ludicrous to talk as if there will soon be no more cafes. There are still loads out there, just that most of them have more modern, post-60's fittings and decor. What's wrong with that ? How many people do you know who still use the same car, cooker, TV etc. that they had even 10 years ago. Things wear out, and get replaced.

The old places have at least had a "good innings", my main concern is for the more recent cafes, struggling to survive against the soft totalitarianism of the corporate coffee-chains. If you want to depress yourself, look in the London phone book under Aroma, Costa Coffee, Coffee Republic, Caffe Nero, Pret a Manger and of course Starbucks. The list of Burger Kings, McDonalds, and KFC's on top of that will have you reaching for the Prozac.

There appears to be some tie-in with Aroma and Caffe Nero, as they seem to share the same H.Q. in Neal St, Covent Garden. I seem to recall that Mcdonalds owns part of Aroma and/or Pret a Manger. The coffee chains are in competition, I suspect that Aroma, Costa Coffee and Coffee Republic will get taken over within the next 5 years, as they seem to have a less strong "brand identity" than Caffe Nero and Starbucks, who will probably predominate in this Darwinian struggle. This will result in even less variety on the High Street. Look at the recent take over of Cullens,Europa, and Harts by Tesco Local/Express, resulting in even more bland homogeneity.

I'm checking out the New Economic Forum website ( see Links on the Classic Cafes website), for some further analysis. I'll probably join them, as they seem to have some good ideas concerning the preservation of independently-owned businesses.

On a more postive note, have you been to Perugino at 10 Tottenham St., near Matteo (?). This is a prime example of the type of place that needs support. It's got wooden banquettes and leatherette seating, which look more recent than the "classic cafe" models, with fake-marble tables. It's a real snug place, open from about 5.30am (!!!) to 5pm Mon to Fri, 6.30pm to 3pm on Sat.

Fresco (I think) a few yards away on Tottenham Court Road, next to Starbucks is another good place.

Both cafes are in sufficiently good state to be of widespread appeal to the West End clientele, and offer a more individual experience than the chains.

Further examples of good,more recent independent cafes and sandwich bars can be seen in the following areas:

1.Strutton Ground,Tothill St, Broadway, Petty France,Horseferry Rd., Warwick Way in S.W.1.

2.Red Lion St, Lamb Conduit St., Sicilian Avenue in Holborn have some good places.

3. Crown Passage off Pall Mall, Shepherd's Market area in Mayfair.

4. Kentish Town Road and Holloway Road are full of cafes of every kind - good, average and awful.

5. Your area, Fitzrovia, and the streets of Marylebone are still rich hunting grounds for the lesser-spotted cafe !!!

I'll get back to you. Check out the classic cafes New Goodfare in Parkway, Camden N.W.1 and Tevere at the corner of Great Peter St and Marsham St, S.W.1, which are worth a visit. Tevere is closed at the weekends, it's open 7-7.30am to about 6pm. New Goodfare is open 7 days a week, I think, usual cafe hours.

"London Caffs" is brilliant, but don't be too hard on your photographic prowess. Your pictures capture the internal ambience of the cafes well, though I do wonder how you have the guts to photograph inside. Do you ask permission first ? In some of the rougher places, half the punters would think you were VAT/DSS, or even the police, and you'd be likely to receive a slapping !!! From my work, I know that cafe owners are jittery about environmental health and tax inspectors, and wouldn't take kindly to the flash of the camera.


I couldn't agree more that it it would be good to stem the current tidal wave of big coffee chains, and your point about recognising that things move on and may have had their day was echoed in a recent item on Radios 4s Food Programme. It was suggested that it was possible to see the current explosion of coffee chains as just the latest (particularly bland) phase in the bigger well established history of London cafes. However I do think that the heritage issue shouldn't be overlooked.

It seems to me that there are 3 strands to this, 1) General promotion of use. Highlighting the diversity in contrast to the uniform, bland and dull offerings of Starbucks etc 2) A considered approach to re-use. An example of this would be Alfredo/S&M. Yes the demographic and atmosphere may have changed but its still a relatively cheap and more importantly architecturally interesting place to meet and eat, and as you say things move on. 3) Historical recognition and preservation. Not so much a demand that anything with a drop of Formica or Vitrolite should be listed, but more a recognition that in specific instances a cafe may be an outstanding example of a particular interior style, reflect aspects of a towns history or aspects of a wider social history, and that our historical landscape will be poorer for its passing. I feel that these 3 things naturally overlap too.

Russell have you had much interest or is it just we 3?

russell davies

Wow. Lot's of good thinking here. I think I agree with all of the above.

I've also realised the downside of having three different blogs all with different people visiting and commenting. It means that comment/support is divided amongst them. I'd say overall there's about 10 people who've actually come out and said they're up for doing something. Which isn't bad since presumably that represents a bigger number of people who might be up for it but don't want to comment.

I met with Adrian Maddox today (at the New Pic) and he's clearly got a ton of energy and ideas about this and he's a real expert. And his site is hugely popular so if he's up for it there's a lot of publicity opportunities there. I get the sense that he'll definitely form the Militant Wing of the Cafe Preservation Society wheras I'll be more of a cuddly steam railway preservationist, but if we can all agree on some common ground (along the lines of Hilary's thoughts) then we might have something here. There are clearly organisations where there's overlap - like the New Economic Forum, and there's clearly people who are up for this. So watch this space. I'm very keen to help make stuff happen.

And Patrick - no I don't ask permission to take pictures - I'm too shy. This does sometime feel risky, but I often pretend I'm just trying to get my camera working. I think the quality of the camera work is informed by my furtiveness.

thanks to everyone for climbing aboard.

russell davies

It's also worth pointing out (for the sake of full disclosure) that Starbucks are one my agencies clients in the States. And I happen to think that they're not the root of all evil, and I enjoy going there for a latte and I believe that they're a good and interesting company. Lots of people will, of course, assume that affection for old cafes and affection for Starbucks are mutually opposing points of view. I don't think they are. I think it's more like being a fan of steam railways and diesel railways. But if that makes me a bad or controversial person to be involved in this then fair enough I'll get out of the way.

Just thought I'd mention that.



I e-mailed Adrian Maddox to suggest that he puts your blog as a separate link, rather than have it on the "I Like Old Cafes" link. This will attract the higher level of interest, and posts, that your blog deserves. As you also suggest, perhaps you should merge your two cafe sites, for clarity.

Blimey, you've got some front taking pictures without permission. I wouldn't have the guts, especially in the more down to earth places. I don't think most of the punters would believe that you were a "cafe afficionado", the concept isn't exactly widespread.

That's honest of you to disclose that one of your agency's clients are Starbucks. That could present problems of conflict of interest with your job. Did you tell Adrian Maddox, I get the impression he would happily see every branch of Starbucks raised to the ground.

I personally think that over-concentration on Starbucks is self-defeating, if it wasn't them, it would be one of the other corporates dominating. When SB's first entered the U.K., I thought they were an interesting novelty. Some of their food products are o.k., the larger branches have toilets ( a big plus), and they generally opened later than 5pm. In the past 3 years I have begun to feel increasingly alarmed by the rapid expansion of this company, and the other coffee-chains. The homogeneisation of High St U.K. is appalling, it really strikes home when you spend time abroad. Other European countries seem to have preserved a greater diversity in their retail sectors, with a consequent greater heterogeneity on their streets, of shop fronts and signs. It's what planners call "visual amenity", which is what we now lack.

In "London Caffs", Edwin Heathcote states that London has the ugliest streets of any capital in Europe. I haven't seen all the European capitals, but we definitely have an increasingly bland, uniform feel to our streets, which induces a form of boredom and deja vu, which almosts borders on mild depression. Variety is the spice of life, and variety is what we are losing. I was in Geneva last month, not the most exotic or exciting city in Europe, but with a diversity of cafes that was a delight. Some of the burger chains are there in the city centre, but there were still a masssive number of small, independent places, with no sign of the green mermaid !

I know that people have greater disposable income than even 10 years ago, that there is a greater trend to eating out, and that the corporates have skilfully tapped into this. Howard Schultz is obviously a man of drive, energy and vision, it's just that I think that his vision borders on the totalitarian - albeit of the soft kind, with comfy sofas !

Without sounding like some Marxist hack, Starbucks seems to be aiming at monopoly dominance. They're promoting an American pastiche of a continental coffee house. However, nobody's being forced into these places at gunpoint, so it's important to understand their appeal. I think there has to be a link between the use of coffee bars in sitcoms like "Friends" and "Frasier", and the rapid spread of the corporate coffee chain in the last 10 years. At the risk of sounding patronising, "monkee see, monkee do" !

As much as I like some of the classic cafes, it is unrealistic to think that the way to stem the tide of bland, uniform coffee chains is by trying to perserve them ad infinitum. Nothing lasts for ever, if it did, the High Streets would still be full of the Edwardian, 20's and 30's cafes that were swept aside by the Formica cafes of the 50's and 60's. That thought gives me hope, I think it's what some people call the permanance of impermanance.

The classic cafes are slowly fading away, which is the natural order of things. It's important to ensure that the post-60's generation of independent cafes is allowed to flourish without being killed off by the corporate chains.

The type of cafes that you feature have greater appeal, and I think will be capable of weaning people away from their unthinking patronage of the coffee-chains. Basically, it's about "bums on seats", i.e. people going into the independents, and spending their money, rather than spending in a chain cafe. I think the coffee chains are pretty naff, and are the external manifestation of the degree to which our minds are being moulded and branded. It's interesting that their penetration of the European markets is a lot slower than in the U.K. Perhaps our standards are lower here, perhaps being English speaking, we buy into the American way of life more easily.

I realise that I'm just rambling ineffectually now, and that I'm preaching to the choir, so I'll finish. I'll sit down and list some constructive suggestions to send to Adrian Maddox and yourself, though I realise that you may have already produced enough ideas.

I'm just off to Dino's in Gloucester Road now for a bite to eat. It's a great Italian place near the tube, ironically located opposite Coffee Republic !!!


Yes, I told Adrian.

I obviously agree with everything you say. Even the things that contradict each other. because it's impossible to live in the modern world without contradiction. Unless you're Penny Rimbaud.

I guess I'm less pesimistic than most.

I remember when I first moved to London, if you wanted to go out in the evening you had no choice, just smokey pubs or expensive restaurants. Now you have choice. That's at least partly down to Starbucks.

High Streets aren't that bad. And aren't going to be. There are lots of businesses that aren't scalable. They're never going to be chains. Newsagents (look at the problems WH Smith's having.) Drycleaners. Decent furniture. Small bookshops. Clothes. I dunno other stuff. Is anyone telling me they'd rather have Cullens than Tesco Metro? Yes, I'm sure they'd rather have Arkwright's shop from Open All Hours but that's not going to happen.

The brands are moving out of town - creating desolate but convenient strip-mall-type places. Which leaves room and rent for the High Street to become interesting again.

Or something. I dunno.


It's a shame you don't have your own direct link on Adrian's website. That way you'd attract the greater interest your sites deserve.

I read somewhere on one of your other blogs that there was a suggestion made that you wrote a book about your cafe visits ( "Notes From A Small Cafe" ?). This would be a good idea, as I think your approach is quite realistic, as it's not focused purely on cafes that are in inexorable decline due to the passing of time. Have you thought about this at all ?

I've been doing the rounds of the classic cafe gazettter, which isn't as difficult as it seems due to the fact that many are within relatively easy distance of my home, and workplace. Most of these places are too rundown to be capable of being a challenge to the coffee-chains, though there are some that are great, with a lot of character. There are also more recent cafes that have a lot of appeal, and are in a better state.

To give credit where it's due, the majority of the coffee-chains provide toilet facilities, which is a big plus, especially for parents with children, and the elderly, not to mention anyone else that doesn't know where the nearest available w.c. is located.
I've sometimes used these places just for their w.c. facilities. I suppose they're also standardised, you usually know what to expect, so they provide a form of comfort zone for people to spend time sitting down.

However, they are gradually erasing character and interest from the U.K.'s streets. Independent cafes are being pushed out of the areas where there is higher pedestrian flow. This will create a downward spiral as less passing trade provides less customers, revenue, profit,etc. The independents will not be able to compete against the chains. This state of affairs is less prevalent in continental Europe

The owners of independent cafes could do more to "raise their game", to attract more customers. I know that a lot of cafes are possibly too small to add w.c.'s, but I've seen some in London, and abroad that have managed to do it. At the risk of sounding hard, there's a lot of inertia and lack of imagination amongst some cafe-owners. Even little things like having the opening hours clearly stated would be useful. Mind you, running a cafe is a tough way to make a living, physically tiring, with long hours, for relatively little reward. The fact that many cafe owners in London don't have English as a first language is another disadvantage. A lot of cafe-owners are too busy with the daily grind to think about how to market their places more effectively.

To an extent, the coffee-chains have created their own market, and do not always attract the same clentele as the classic cafes. However, if you want a good explanation of Starbucks marketing strategy, read Naomi Klein's "No Logo", which clearly outlines the aggressive drive for monopoly domination. I think Starbuck's are possibly the worst for this, though I'm sure some of the others are learning the lesson.

I'm glad to see that your global-capitalist credential haven't put Adrian Maddox off ! They're actually an advantage, in my view, as you need someone with a good grasp of modern marketing realities to realise the best way to boost the independent cafes.

Apologies for the delay in posting contructive ideas ( instead of rambling), but I was waiting to see if you and Adrian were still in contact.

I visited the Lido cafe in Great Castle St last week, after shopping in Oxford Street. What a great place All these years I've been walking past it ! What a pity there aren't places like this in every High St.


Unfortunately, the Lido has been 'done up' with Additional Seating Downstairs, which is always a depressing concept.

Elisa Fraser

I am complete agreement to supporting our local cafes & encouraging our local community to frequent local business rather than the big franchises.

My friend, Katherine, and I have just set up a production company to discover new talent and produce innovative ideas from our local community, Fitzrovia W1. Our first production is 'Barista Blues'!

Barista Blues is a naturalistic two act play that focuses on a group of Baristas’ working in an inner-city London café. The play will be performed at the Gielgud Theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Gower Street, on the 19th & 20th November 2005. Please come along & support us.

I am hoping to make a small profit, which will be used in drinking lots of coffee in locally owned cafes.

The comments to this entry are closed.

ebcb archive

cup of tea archive