old london

The secondary modernist.

Here is our current window display, vinyl applied to the inside of the glass. It was inspired by a photograph seen in a book about the artist Peggy Angus who designed the tiles on the staircase at Whitefield school in the old London borough of Hendon. 

Whitefield was one of many schools built by the LCC in the fifties and was the nearest secondary modern to my junior school. I didn’t get to see the lovely tiles at Whitefield as I was considered suitable material for grammar school, an over optimistic assessment as I left school aged sixteen with just two O levels, art and religious education.

A Very Arty Café lets you see pretty girls and creative, accomplished-looking people. Visiting it lends a sense of occasion, a specialness communicable even via YouTube and Streetview. A Very Arty Café — let’s call it a VAC — creates an instant scene and generously allows you to be a part of it for the price of a cup of coffee. Its design values lift your mood (or might annoy the hell out of you if you’re not that sort of person).

I’ve been thinking about the VAC recently. Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce for the Fondazione Prada in Milan has put the genre in the news.

The best VACs I’ve known have been connected, naturally, to art events. The Blue Print café at Emotional Site, for instance, the last art event held at Tokyo’s Shokuryo Building when basically all the city’s galleries were there. I also miss the café in the old Photographers’ Gallery on London’s Great Newport Street, which ran a single minimalist table down the middle of the actual gallery space, and which has lost all its charm since the move to Ramilies Street.

The café in Smiljan Radić’s 2014 Serpentine pavilion qualified; it looked like a flying saucer:

2015’s Serpentine pavilion by SelgasCano promises an exciting café too. It opens on June 25th.

VACs that have impressed me recently in real life include Kyoto’s Café Bibliotic Hello! and London’s Fabrique, a tiled underneath-the-arches bakery on Geffrye Street, next to the exit of the Hoxton Overground station. But I’ve also been researching online, running terms like “Bushwick’s trendiest café”. That particular search term led to AP Café on Troutman Street:

Although I can recognise the sense of specialness and slightly uneasy self-congratulation (often expressed as eco-guilt and conspicuous community involvement) that emanates from a café in an area of incipient gentrification (I had a similar impression recently in Berlin’s Die Dicke Linda market, where I was poured a pure hand drip coffee with such reverence that I was scared to sully it with milk), I find AP Café’s minimalism a bit played, in purely design terms: those metal fountains, for instance, remind me of the now-vanished Galapagos in Williamsburg. Years and years ago.

I was excited to hear that Henrik Vibskov — the Danish fashion designer who is possibly the world’s coolest man — has opened a café in Copenhagen. Superfuture describes it breathlessly as inhabiting “a cool, creative environment on Papirøen / Paper Island, which in turn is a hotbed of creativity in the heart of Copenhagen”.

The webzine relates: “After the Danish designer Henrik Vibskov moved his studio to Papirøen, it was obvious to open a cafe, Den Plettede Gris – the Spotted Pig — as an extension of his brand. The space is made to create the feeling of being inside a piano, interpreted by the designer with colourful walls and black elastic bands. It is conceptual, creative and a place for connecting work and play while drinking a great cup of coffee.”

If “being inside a piano” isn’t wanky enough (and every VAC has to be wanky in some way, it’s an unwritten rule of the genre), how about Fuckoffee, the Bermondsey Street branch of Brick Lane Coffee (just opposite White Cube Gallery in South London), which is single-handedly bringing the penis back to the centre of café life?

Fuckoffee (a scene in my forthcoming Popppappp novel takes place in an imaginary rural Kent branch) coaxes passing dickheads in with cocks chalked on blackboards and sells cock-themed coffee beans bagged by Dark Arts. Visiting wankers can buy a deeply offensive joke Ebola mask at the counter. Nathan Barley would be proud.


Earliest portraits of Londoners.

Charles Spurgeon the Younger, son of the Evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon, took over the South St Baptist Chapel in Greenwich in the eighteen-eighties and commissioned an unknown photographer to make lantern slides of the working people of Greenwich that he could use in his preaching. We shall never know exactly how Spurgeon showed these pictures, taken between 1884 and 1887, but – inadvertently – he was responsible for the creation of one of the earliest series of documentary portraits of Londoners.

Spitalfields Life