Coffeeshops I Love in Northwest London

Monday, 22 June 2009

Okay, not all of them are coffeeshops, but I use them as if they are. Me, book, pens or notepad, £2 or less. Go!

Café Also
1255 Finchley Road, NW11 0AD
Café latte: £1.85

Café Also is attached to a small independent bookstore, which is almost always a good sign. I have been in Joseph's many a time to pick up haggadah and feminist tracts, but I only stepped into the adjoining café for the first time on Sunday.

Cafe Also by Joseph's Bookstore

It's adorable, oh my god. There's about a dozen tables inside and two outside, and they are big solid thick wooden ones that don't jiggle at all. You can shore up at one of the corner tables with a big pile of textbooks and that baby won't even flinch. The windows are big, so you can see the sunlight and everyone doing their shopping. Specials are written in chalk and illustrated with doodles on a blackboard, and there's posters for old book signings and concerts framed on the walls.

At the adjacent tables
  • A twentysomething couple teaching their young son to subtract
  • Three women 50-60ish talking about their book club
  • A twentysomething gentleman with art-student hair, reading The Cellist of Sarajevo

Ambient music
  • A mix of Louie Bega (of Mambo No. 5 fame) and Frank Sinatra.

Most likely to host

Camden Arts Centre
Arkwright Road, London NW3 6DG
Café latte: £1.80 (small), £2.20 (large)

Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, and free wireless. I know everyone is doing free wireless these days, but this is the sort of place that had it in 2002 or whenever all the cool kids started doing it. It's arty. I think one of the laptop people might have been designing a lighting scheme for one of the independent theatres Camden is packed with.

They're all so goddamned hip. I haven't been when it's raining, but when it's sunny, it's the closest you can get to actually being outside. And, as you can see, there's a garden with a few tables in case you have a phobia of roofs.

At the adjacent tables
  • Five or six scattered young artsy people with laptops
  • A pair of women in their thirties talking animatedly about their friends
  • A 60-70ish gentleman tackling a slice of cheesecake
  • Two families (or one really big one) laughing outside

Ambient Music
  • None but the chatter of writers and photographers discussing their project ideas

Most likely to host
  • And I quote, "Camden Arts Centre has commissioned London-based Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha to create a new sculptural installation for Gallery 3. His dynamic, large-scale sculptures improvise on the concept of the readymade by reusing everyday objects."

Ciao Ciao
334 Kilburn High Road
Café latte: £1.65

Okay, for starters: I love Kilburn High Road. Like, a lot. It's why I live here. I love all the corner shops and tiny ethnic restaurants, I love the ratio of pubs per capita (about .47), I love the people walking down it at any given moment, who will be musicians, builders, businesspeople who say they live in West Hampstead, university dropouts with dogs, midday drunks, anything. It always fills me with a great love for the borough, London and humanity.

I remember walking home from work up the high road when a black Honda slowed down and rolled down its window, revealing a thirtysomething businessman. "Does anyone know how to get to the North London Tavern?" he called. A boy my age, who'd been walking in the opposite direction, swivelled and started explaining, with gestures. I described the pub sign. We reached a consensus. The driver thanked us and pulled off.

The next week I was on a bus that passed the Black Lion pub, where a middle-aged man, bald, in a grey shirt and jeans, sat on a table. He was playing guitar and singing to a woman who looked like him, and I think must have been his sister. She had a glass of amber ale and was laughing. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth while he sang.

Since I've moved to Kilburn (last December), I have never been able to stay in a bad mood from the Tube station to my front door.

Ciao Ciao has two rows of outdoor seating so you can watch everyone walk by. It has gorgeous sandwiches and great full breakfasts for under £5, and waitstaff who speak English earnestly if not always accurately. You live in a city like London so you can go to a cafe like Ciao Ciao.

At the adjacent tables
  • Two couples on second or third dates
  • Four women taking advantage of the pizza-and-a-beer for £7 dinner deal
Ambient music
  • OH MY GOD the music in this place is SO WEIRD. They have what I think is Italian MTV playing on two flat video screens, which are positioned prominently above the door and on the opposite wall, but the music they play (also Italian pop?) is never synched up with what's on the TVs. At first I thought it was just a clutch of surreal videos, but the songs never start and end at the same time. If you take a friend, you can make a game out of it!

Most likely to host
  • First date for businesspeople who pretend to live in West Hampstead
  • Hangover clump at 11 am on Sunday morning when everyone who was out at Powers Bar the night before peels themselves out of bed.


Soilman said...

How useful is this? Brilliant! Wish I still lived in North London to take advantage of your research.

I used to go to a Polish cafe in Primrose Hill high street. Don't know if it's still there. It was utterly brilliant. Gorgeous sticky cakes made to east European recipes plus coffee so strong it gave you goose flesh. Unimprovable.

Judith said...

There's a Polish cafe next to a Brazilian restaurant further down Kilburn High Road that I've never been brave enough to enter. You've inspired me to investigate!

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