The city’s rich history is reflected in its unexpected café locations.
BY JOSEPH PHELAN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photo courtesy of Amar Café
The United Kingdom’s capital city is home to some rather eclectic destinations. Examples of non-coffee madness include Holy Trinity, a church with a clown museum in its basement, and Crossness, arguably the world’s most elegant sewage pumping station. There’s also Crossbones, a small burial ground in the center of the city that is said to be the final resting place of over 15,000 people.
If you’re attracted to eccentric historical destinations, then you may enjoy coffee shops that also offer something out of the ordinary—in which case, London is the city for you. With that in mind, here are some of the most interesting places to enjoy a caffeine break while spending time in the Big Smoke.
There is nothing more quintessentially British than a good old red telephone box. However, given that nearly everyone has a cellphone nowadays, the demand for public telephones has waned in recent years. Thank goodness, therefore, for people like Lore Mejia and Sean Rafferty, co-founders of Amar Café, who have taken to transforming disused telephone boxes into small coffee shops. The first of their innovative outlets, which opened in March 2020, was (despite the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown) such a success that the pair now runs three locations across the capital. It’s also worth noting that the coffee they serve is absolutely outstanding.
Although there are now three Attendant locations across London, the original—and certainly quirkiest—is Fitzrovia, which is in a disused Victorian public toilet. It retains some of the original features, like the top sections of the porcelain urinals and the floor tiles, and has everything you could want from a trendy modern coffee outlet. The food on offer consists of mostly seasonal produce and ingredients, and many people were even bulk-ordering bags of Attendant beans during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, it’s the location that truly makes this place stand out from the crowd—and will have you clamoring for your camera.
We mentioned earlier that Amar is doing its share to keep London’s red telephone boxes alive, and in a similar vein, Black Cab is also working to repurpose the city’s iconic black taxi. Launched back in 2012, Black Cab Coffee was initially just that—coffee served from a modified London taxi. This operation was so successful that Black Cab has now moved into the world of brick and mortar, with the company now operating a hugely popular coffee shop overlooking the Thames. The converted black cabs are still going strong, however, and operate nearly every weekend on London’s Brick Lane; these cabs are even available for events, festivals, and weddings.
You’ve probably heard of cat cafés before, but it’s doubtful you’ve ever seen anything quite like Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. The café comes complete with a basement forest, where rescue cats are able to clamber upon shelves, walk along rope bridges, or perch atop any number of elevated ledges—allowing visitors to enjoy afternoon tea in the most unconventional of environments. Lady Dinah’s is such a genuine escape from reality, you’ll end up returning time and again.
For those seeking somewhere that combines coffee with conjuring, then you are in luck. Twisted Fork is London’s leading magic-themed coffee bar, which serves everything you’d expect from a top-notch café. However, this goes further, as its walls are adorned with moving pictures. Twisted Fork also does regular magic events and illusion lessons, which is as far from the average coffee shop as you’re ever likely to get.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Phelan is a freelance journalist based in London. While most of his free time is spent scouring in his adopted city in search of the best coffee haunts, he also enjoys any opportunity to listen to live music, and makes a point of venturing to Iceland at least twice a year.