Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bar Italia Soho London

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

After hearing the track ‘Bar Italia’ on Pulp’s mid-‘90’s album ‘Different Class’, it has fascinated me ever since, I always wondered what all the fuss was about and why someone would write a song about it. 

Open from 7am to 5am, it caters for the early risers, the night owls and everyone else in between.   Jarvis Cocker from Pulp drew inspiration from his own experiences of going there for that last drink in the wee hours when you don’t quite want your night to end.  Hence the lyrics:  It’s now morning, there’s only one place we can go, it’s around the corner in Soho.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Bar Italia was established in 1949 by an Italian family who 3 generations in, continue to run it.  The décor has a vintage vibe to it, wood panelled walls with Italian football shirts adorning them and even the cash till still bears reference to pre-decimalisation. 

Located in the heart of Soho, opposite Ronnie Scott’s club, it was only a few years ago that I finally went to satisfy my curiosity.   Upon approach, I imagine 1960’s London with Soho renowned for its seedy reputation, I wonder what it would’ve been like here on Frith Street, no doubt anecdotes are a-plenty.

My first visit happened to be on a Saturday morning, the street was quiet, as if taking a breather from revelry from the night before ahead of it happening again, yet Bar Italia was so busy.  I think I fell in love with it the second I received a rapturous, flirtatious welcome and was endearingly called ‘daaarrrrling’.   I like my cappuccinos a certain way, they obliged.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

My choice to go for the outdoor seating was the best one as it offers a prime spot for people-watching and I spend my time observing the eclectic tribe of patrons come and go.  I thank the woman with actual razor blades for earrings for giving up her seat for me, I see the local trendies waltz in to get their Americanos to go and I can’t take my eyes off the older lady with the most captivating candy coloured perm who chain smokes whilst staring into the middle distance lost in her thoughts.   As I dunk my biscotti into my coffee, I sit and wonder what her story is.  It’s a treasure trove of characters and I can see why Jarvis would turn it into a song.

It’s now somewhere I always go to first before embarking upon my adventures in London, an indulgent elevenses combo of a large cappuccino and a slab of tiramisu sets me up for the day quite nicely.  I find the experience and its uniqueness more gratifying than had I set foot in a chain outlet, I feel I’m getting a slice of real London coated with Italian charm, although I fear I’m too late and shall never bump into Jarvis Cocker.  Oh well.

Their website claims tell the waiter twice and you’ll never have to tell him again, he will remember you and know exactly how you want your coffee, he’ll get it right each time.

So stamp my loyalty card and remember I’m the girl who likes a single shot cappuccino, sugar and a plenty of chocolate on top.  I know you won’t need telling more than twice daaarrrling……….



Bar Italia and other unique cafes are featured in Café London a guide to London’s café culture.  Cafe London edited by Zena Alkayat is published by Frances Lincoln (£9.99). My review of Café London and more information on the book can be found here

Bar Italia lyrics have been extracted from the internet.  Lyrics written by: Jarvis Cocker/Nick Banks/Steve Mackey/Russell Senior/Candida Doyle/Mark Webber.

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