The New Piccadilly Café, 8 Denman Street, Piccadilly, London
Report by urban75 editor, 25th Jan 2005
(***PLEASE NOTE: The cafe closed in December 2007).
Nestling behind the tourist highway of Piccadilly Circus is this charming, traditional café, famed for its 1950s decor and formica clad interior
Little has altered in this much-loved Soho institution since it first opened its doors half a century ago - including the menu!
New Piccadilly café sign
It's almost certain that this long-serving sign will soon disappear from Denman Street.
The redevelopment of the area has already been agreed by Westminster Council - and if that doesn't happen, a scheduled rent review in autumn 2005 will no doubt bring forth a huge hike in rent prices and force the owner, Lorenzo Marioni, to sell up.
Illuminated café sign, New Piccadilly café
Still sporting its original 1950s sign, the café frontage makes a welcome change from the tacky plastic exteriors and gawdy awnings plastered all around the West End.
Stepping inside the New Piccadilly café is like stepping back in time - you half expect to find smoking beat poets in the corner, a skiffle band planing their next gig or a youthful Cliff Richard driving past in a red double decker bus.
The formica-topped tables haven't changed in 50 years ago, the light fittings must be acquiring antique value and even the original seats are still in service.
Reading the menu, New Piccadilly café
The menu design doesn't look like it's changed since the 1950s.
The printed phone number starts with the old '01' prefix - a number that become obsolete over 15 years ago!
Interior detail, New Piccadilly café
The café retains almost all of its original features, complete with swivelling chairs, old mirrors, authentic 50s cups and cutlery and - curiously enough - a poster advertising a musical about Cliff Richard (we'll be giving that a miss).
Menu and clock, New Piccadilly café
The café's bill of fare is hand-written on to this vintage, horseshoe-shaped menu board.
The menu consists of no-nonsense, traditional meals like Sausage, Egg and Chips, Mixed Grill and Chips, Spaghetti Bolognese and Risotto Bolognese - all at dirt cheap prices.
Menu detail, New Piccadilly café
A close up view of the menu board. If you fancy a cup of tea with your meal, it'll be just 50p extra (60p for high rollers desiring coffee!).
Tucking in, New Piccadilly café
We ate out in style, and our tasty meal was served up in no time. I went for the cheese omelette and chips, while Em opted for the spaghetti. For desert, we wolfed down some delicious apple pie and custard and chocolate pudding.
The café is unlicensed, so you can bring in wine and beer, with no corkage charge (but be sure to leave them a generous tip!).
Proprietor, Lorenzo Marioni
I enjoyed a lengthy chat with the affable owner who enthusiastically told me about his long association with the café.
His late father, Pietro, founded the joint in 1951 and Lorenzi has been here ever since.
He's full of fascinating stories about the dark, seedy Soho of the 1950s, the local gangsters, the rockers, prostitutes and a time where the streets were run by Italians, Greeks, Jews, Maltese, Irish and 'Budapest street rats'.
Empy 'reserved' table, New Piccadilly café
Sadly, the café was very quiet when we visited, apart from a few hipsters enjoying a wholesome cheap meal and the unique Soho ambience.
Now in his sixties, Lorenzo knows the writing is on the wall for his café, as this excerpt from the Independent (June 2003) illustrates:
"This place used to make me a living," he (Lorenzo) reflects. "Now it's more like half a living. I'm the like last one on the ship. It's sinking, and there's only a little bit of it left above the surface of the water." There's not a trace of bitterness in his voice. "I'm standing there," he says, "smoking a Player's Navy Cut, and looking at the stars."
It'll be a shame if this glorious reminder of a time when city centres were full of local character and colour, so we implore you to give those awful 'third place' over-priced corporate coffee houses a miss and pay Lorenzi a visit.
You'll kick yourself if you miss out on this fabulous experience!
» More New Piccadilly café photos
» See 360º panorama of café interior (Java required)