No one should mourn a coffee shop.
We have enough.
Round my way, in West Norwood and uphill in Crystal Palace, news of another one turning up can be greeted with suspicion – another chain killing off the locals, more gentrification, another pointless hipsterish place in which to consume frothy beverages, whilst staring meaningfully out of the window in between taps on your laptop. Not when what we really need round here is a [insert preferred shop/service/destination].
But today a coffee shop near where I work in Clerkenwell disappeared. Not literally, I hadn’t been there for a few days, but when I headed for it this morning it was boarded up, along with a few other premises nearby, along a stretch of Turnmill St around the back/side of Farringdon Station. Not including the bit that rounds the corner as the road becomes Cowcross St, so the Pret will live.
It shouldn’t be a shock. Crossrail and the general remorseless flattening and rebuilding of the area has done for many other buildings nearby.
Much of Smithfield is being bulldozed and the nightclub that once stood at the other end of this particular road is now a spanking new boxy office block. Though long before that was here, windmills once reputedly stood nearby alongside the Fleet (hence the street name) and were themselves replaced by something else.
I just liked the shop’s unassuming style. It was called simply: Coffee House. It had a sparse, lightly Turkish flavour to it, with Levantine-type blue and white patterning on some surfaces, and photos of Istanbul – both very old and of more recent vintage lining the walls. Tables in front of the counter groaned with cakes, pastries and cheese and ham croissants. A slightly eccentric, but efficient queuing system held sway – though it seemed to confuse the hell out of infrequent visitors. To one side of the counter, in another room, a few scattered tables were regularly filled with a mixture of pre-and post meeting meetings, taking place alongside lone readers and breathless tourists snatching a few minutes break. This space always seemed inviting in a brusque and functional kind of way.
I quite liked it and now it’s gone. A recent visit to the Museum of London reminded me that the city’s history has been fairly consistently one of rejigging and reinvention, from Londinium and Lundenwic on. However, the latest round of urban redevelopment – here and elsewhere such as St Giles – does seem to be replacing a lot of interesting, distinctive local places, built and run on a human scale, with increasing amounts of faceless, exclusionary and uninspiring blocks of glassy stuff instead.
Well, Güle güle ‘Coffee House’ I sometimes got lost in your queue. Maybe you’ll be succeeded by a windmill.