The cafe killer

I have a confession to make. I’m a natural born killer. Don’t worry – I don’t kill people, or even butterflies. I kill cafes.

All I have to do is pick a place to do my writing, go there fairly regularly, and it’ll be closed before the year is out. I’ve even killed a café in Barbados, and I’ve only been here since last December.

Here is a partial list of London cafés I have killed:

  • Pick More Daisies (Crouch End)
  • Figo’s Cafe (Crouch End)
  • Messy Mug (Crouch End)
  • Dudley’s Pancake House (Finsbury Park)
  • Dragonfly (Highgate)
  • S&M Cafe (Islington)
  • World Cafe (Crouch End)

It’s a partial list because I haven’t kept track of them. I’m not some kind of CSI-type psycho who pins newspaper clippings to his bedroom wall. I know there have been others, but I can’t remember the details.

Why I do it

I may be a killer, but I do show remorse. The one I just killed in Barbados was particularly upsetting for me. It was a fairly new, family-run place, with the father as cook, the daughter as waitress and the mother as host. It was friendly and had good, inexpensive food, and I didn’t want to kill it, really I didn’t. But unfortunately it had a bad location, in the arse-end of a mall, with bad signage and several other more established cafes nearby. It was almost empty every time I went in. It never stood a chance.

And that’s why I have this unfortunate record, you see. The very qualities I look for in a writing location are the very qualities that guarantee a café’s speedy demise. I want somewhere quiet and spacious, where I can sit for hours in comfort. More customers mean more distractions, more noise, more pressure, more people standing over me waiting for my table. The places I like are the ones with a slow, dreamy atmosphere, where the owner’s slumped over the counter and you can sit there all afternoon hearing nothing but the ticking of the clock. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a good business model.

Who’s next in line?

Food Court, Bridgetown, BarbadosSince the demise of Ozara’s (the family-run place), I have found a new writing location in a drab, windowless mall in Bridgetown. It’s a food court, really, with a variety of junk-food outlets at one end. But it’s rare in two ways: it doesn’t pipe out the usual junk-music, and it has hardly any customers (again, bad location). So this one may work, for now. But if you’re the owner of one of those junk-food outlets, you may want to consider getting out while you still can…


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There are 25 comments

  1. I have a history of killing off hairdressers. And I was equally upset about it. You could always turn this around and say that you provide a frail lifeline for certain small, badly placed cafes!

    1. Ah, I like that way of looking at it – I’m such a glass-half-empty guy. Hairdressers? Hmm, you should visit Crouch End, where I used to live in north London. About every third shop is a hairdresser there. You could go on a killing spree!

  2. Oh very funny Andrew … love this! As a person who goes out to lunch with elderly parents I too look for quiet places. So far we haven’t killed any yet. Maybe that’s because they’ve already been killed by the likes of you because boy, are they hard to find!

    1. It’s true, those quiet places are hard to find. So many cafes are noisy, and even if they have no people they insist on pumping out loud music. Maybe keep a lookout for solitary types with laptops, and follow them wherever they’re going (and hope it’s not the library!)

  3. Hey Andrew this cracks me up! You may be a killer of cafés but I have a secret weapon that could bring down the world economy! Not that it needs too much of a push… but get this. I graduated in 2003 with a degree in communications. When I graduated every publication/publisher in the US started down sizing. And as you know this is a global trend that only gets worse. I graduated with a degree in English in 2010… In 2009 a year before graduating institutions of higher education started to shift resources away from the humanities and shifting them toward Business, engineering and of course American football (the real cash cow). Can you imagine what I’d do if i went and got an accounting or finance degree?!

    1. That’s funny, Charles! Choose your next degree with care! Maybe finance would be good, actually, if you could manage just to bring down the banks, but leave the rest of the world economy intact!

  4. You should try Starbucks. 🙂 Now that’s an experiment I will be curious about. All Starbucks cafes here are full but not necessarily noisy. Some of the people even have laptops but of course I have no idea if any of them are writers.

    1. Ah that’s funny – I could do the world a favour!

      Unfortunately I avoid Starbucks for the reason you mention – it’s always busy, lots of distractions. Well, there are a lot of other reasons I avoid Starbucks, but that’s the main one…

  5. Nice post, Andrew! It made me smile 🙂 It is sad that those small, family-owned cafes that you love are getting closed. Ozara’s sounds like a wonderful cafe, from your description. I love cafes and there was a time I used to spend every weekend in one of them. My favourite was the one near my home at that time, where I have spent many Saturdays reading the whole day. One of my favourites was a cafe where a few of us used to meet for book club meetings and creative writing workshops. When it closed down I felt very sad. I hope these small family owned cafes manage to survive somehow.

    1. Yes, Ozara’s was great! It’s a shame that there are so many reasons why a good place can fail, like location or competition from other cafes or bad signage, etc. Spending all Saturday reading in a cafe sounds wonderful! I used to do that sometimes, but haven’t done it for ages now. Maybe I’ll take inspiration from you and try it one weekend soon!

  6. Unfortunately the quiet cafes are the ones that will close sooner 🙁 Maybe you can get a writer’s group going, where people frequent the same place (if not together – you want it to be quiet). It’s not in the real world, but in a different internet “life” I used to find every time I joined gaming groups it would end very soon afterwards. I actually got into the habit of lurking rather than joining which meant I lost out on fun but the groups remained open. It’s a strange thing, because you’d think by adding another number it would help things remain.

    1. That’s a good idea, Charlie! To be honest I’ve never been much of a group person, especially writer’s groups. But if we’re going at different times, it might work 😉

  7. Wow, you are merciless! All those poor cafes. So now that you are writing at a mall food court, which do you think will close down, the food court or the mall? 😉

    1. Ah, bringing down a whole mall, that would be impressive! To be honest I wouldn’t be that surprised – I never see that many people in it, which is probably why the food court is empty. But malls always seem to survive, don’t they? Still, they never came up against me before…

  8. Very funny.

    Perhaps you could be hired by a chain-store manager: they would unleash you in a city and you’d find all the places where they should not start a business 🙂

    PS: I understand you, I love sitting long hours in a remote corner of a café with a book. Too bad I don’t have time to do that anymore.

    1. Ah yes, good idea – I could become a consultant. Put all that killing experience to good use!

      Sorry to hear you don’t have time for long hours in cafes. I don’t seem to do it very often either – I go there to write, but not so much just to sit and read any more. I think I’ll try to find the time again, though – leave the laptop behind for a change!

  9. Like yourself Andrew, it does seem that when I discover a business, usually a restaurant it is often the kiss of death. I attribute it to having unique tastes and liking oddball places.

  10. Aw, poor cafés. I know what you mean. Those quiet ones are the best ones. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between. I have found, though, that some places, while really busy during dinner hours, do not stay busy mid-afternoons. You might be able to find somewhere like that. But then you’d have to schedule your writing, so, yeah, I guess that wouldn’t work. Just accept your destiny. At least you’re killing them softly.

    1. Hi Claire
      You’re right that a lot of places are quiet outside dinner hours, and that works sometimes for me in the mornings, but then I don’t like having to leave at lunchtime if I’m in the middle of something good. I prefer a place where I can stay for hours if it’s all going well. So yes, I’ve had to accept my destiny. Still feel bad about it though!

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