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Home Ren's Biking Blog

Myths Of The Ace Cafe

Blog Date - 30 September 2015

They're strange things, legends. The Ace Cafe is something of a legend in motorcycling circles. The very mention of the name conjures up mental images of 1950's ton up boys with white socks rolled over the top of their biker boots in grainy black and white images. Everyone who's anyone in the two-wheeled world has been there and has a story to tell. It comes into almost every top-ten list of biker places to go to, to see and be seen at. It seems to have become the hub around which the motorcycle and biker world revolves here in the UK.

The exterior of the Ace Cafe. A white building of 1940's vintage with large windows
The iconic Ace Cafe on London's North Circular road.

So while I was on my way home from my Dad's house on the south coast I thought it might be a good idea to visit this legendary place. You know, while I'm passing through and all that. It will also be an opportunity for the gf to see it for herself and experience the delights of London village traffic. Regular readers will know I don't like cities. It is often said that the capital traffic is more aggressive than elsewhere, that's not been my experience as all city traffic is aggressive. What London can boast is simply having a much larger area of aggressive traffic to pass through.

As such getting to The Ace Cafe from Brighton takes us around 3 hours. Why did we not go on the motorway? Because the gf is still on "L" plates that's why. So after the initial hour getting to the city there follows 2 hours of stop start traffic, multiple lane roundabouts, 6 way junctions and a perplexing plethora of unfamiliar signs to to places of unknown geography. Add to that traffic jams, crawling traffic lights and impatient taxis and we're really having fun. When we finally arrive at The Ace Cafe and park in the car park I feel as though we deserve a medal for what we have just been through. But nope, we're barely noticed let alone lauded. 

Sharon stands next to our bikes outside the Ace Cafe
Well done Sharon for surviving 2 hours of London's traffic. You deserve a medal.

There's about 10 motorcycles outside on this weekday lunchtime and our 125's complete with luggage become just part of the collection. Inside we find a healthy sprinkling of customers and all the things you'd expect to find in a cafe such as tables, chairs, a serving counter and staff. There's memorabilia on some of the walls and a few vintage style motorcycles. Rather disappointingly there's also a small shop selling t-shirts and such to show you've been or how much you long to have been a ton up boy in the 50's. 

a few vintage motorcycles in a corner of the ace cafe with people looking at them
The erm...er...bike display you might call it.

As it is lunchtime we both order a burger. This place ain't cheap either but I guess that's London prices? I don't know really as I've nothing to compare it to. And the food? It's OK but it's nothing much to write home about. I can't see them being awarded a Michelin star lets put it that way. 

As we step outside we are both left with a sense of a lack of occasion. The myths and legends are what The Ace Cafe trades upon but those days are gone. Now there's a few bikers among the regular folks of London. Now it's just a cafe with a history, I didn't sense that it was still in the process of making new history. As we do battle with the horrors of city traffic for another hour and a half to get out of the big smoke all we are left with is a sense of relief to be back in the countryside.

Unlike most other biker hang outs The Ace Cafe is at one huge massive disadvantage - it is in the city. You can take your GSCBYZRRRRR Ninja-Blade 1000 there but there really is little point. A 50cc Chinese scoot will get there just as quickly. So how are you going to prove your manliness and skills? By riding up and down the nearby roads like an utter cretin, screaming your engine, doing wheelies, burning out and trying to drift. As we were leaving one such buffoon was bouncing the revs off the limiter just turning into the car park. 

This is bringing The Ace Cafe to the attention of the law. There are threats to close the place and signs all over the cafe begging riders to behave themselves due to the public nuisance they are causing. Of course 99% of motorcyclists come and go in a reasonable manner it's always the ignorant imbeciles that spoil it for the rest.

I am of the opinion that there are far far better places for the motorcyclist to visit. Rykers, aka Box Hill south of London, is in far prettier surroundings and cheaper. The Ponderosa North Wales has some majestic roads and scenery nearby. The Green Welly in Tyndrum is amidst the motorcycle heaven of The Scottish Highlands. Even cafe's like Beckie's Diner in the town of Preston has good food and easy access to some country roads. The Ace Cafe would be fine if it wasn't in London. Then again if it wasn't in London it would probably have never been a legend now would it...

Outside the Ace Cafe you can see a bridge with a train on it and busy bustling roads
The scenery outside doesn't quite match The Alps or The Highlands.

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Reader's Comments

Linda said :-
Motorcycling is not all about scenery. I know people who love the challenge of riding in the traffic. I don't know of any bikers cafe with a Michelin star. The whole point is that the cafe has been preserved (not knocked down like the majority of others). It's a piece of history that dates back to 1938 and can now be enjoyed by future generations.
UTC
Henrik said :-
Yes it is ,... it's all about the scenery :-)

Enduromania 2010
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Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Linda. I can certainly appreciate that not everyone views The Ace Cafe as I do. It's a piece of history and that in itself is enough for some. Having been a despatch rider myself once there can be a certain satisfaction in doing battle with traffic too. However having spent far too long living near a big city there's little pleasure for me in fighting with endless queues these days. I have to agree about the Michelin Star thing though, most biker cafes around the country are hardly haute cuisine.

Henrik, do you specialise in making other people jealous? Damn you, that looks like one hell of a ride.
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Henrik said :-
Sure :-) 2010 on DRZ-400
enduromania.net/ ...
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Ian Soady said :-
Linda.

The current ACE cafe has nothing to do with the "real" ACE other than its location. The latter closed in 1969 and even according to the current owners' website the new one only opened in the 90s, to be populated by all sorts of hipsters and wannabes.

There are some real transport caf├ęs left such as Jack's Hill on the A5. A bit closer to Ren & Sharon?
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Ren - The Ed said :-
Henrik - you are a cruel cruel man. When I meet you one day I shall give you a slap! Enduro Mania...I struggle to ride across a campsite off road. Pffft!

Ian - I MUST have been past the Jack's Hill cafe on the A5 twice this year but I never gave it a second thought. I can see where one of my trips will be taking me soon. Good call.
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Doug said :-
i often take a bimble to Jack's Hill Cafe for a full English and a wander around the bikes. It's just north of the A5/A43 junction at Towcester, and can get quite busy on sunny Sundays.
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Linda said :-
Ian, Although the original Ace Cafe closed in 1969, the re-opened Ace is the same building, just refurbished to meet with today's health and safety regulations. You make it sound like there is no merit in preserving the building and bringing it back to life as a meeting place. I have no idea what you mean by Hipsters (a new word recently used for bearded bike builders)and wanabees, the cafe's patrons on motorcycles are from a very broad church, you'd be hard pushed to find a "Hipster" there on a Friday night. It is still a transport cafe, that also hosts many different car meets.
I accept what you say Ren, but your article comes over as wanting to put people off from visiting.
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Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Linda. It is not my intention to put people off from visiting nor do I wish to persuade people to go. My intention is to report my experience as I experienced it on the day.

I understand that everyone's experience will be different and I might have had a different experience on a different day. The whole experience at the time of our visit was one of enduring a lot of heavy traffic to visit a cafe.

The whole experience left me feeling it wasn't worth the effort.
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Ren - The Ed said :-
Doug - the drinks are on you next time I'm running down the A5!
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Linda said :-
Ren, I accept what your experience was on the day, but you have also given your opinions as well, which is entirely a different matter.
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Tony.P said :-
Hi Ren, as far as Linda is concerned I'd put down the shovel and admit defeat.
You're just digging yourself a bigger hole. On the bright side, thank heavens only a handful of people visit your web site, haha.
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Ian Soady said :-
Linda.

I'm sorry you didn't like my characterisation of the clientele. In fact I suspect that poseur may have been a more accurate term to use.

I'm afraid in my book the whole ACE thing is purely a marketing / merchandise operation, hijacking a respected name from the past in order to push overpriced tat. It's very similar to what happened with the Matchless name - some "entrepreneur" buys it then uses it to give a superficial legitimacy to things that have absolutely no connection with the original. These comments do not of course apply to companies such as Triumph and Royal Enfield who do at least make motorcycles.

I quite understand that there are people who want to buy into a lifestyle that they view through rose-tinted Mk VIIIs but please excuse me if I am less than enthusiastic. This is of course my personal take on the whole thing and others' views are of course equally legitimate.

You seem to object to anyone passing an opinion on the place. You aren't by any chance connected with its management are you? It's interesting that the website doesn't mention who is involved, although I see that ACE Cafe Ltd is based in Southport which seems a bit odd.
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Henrik said :-
Ian, you hit the nail spot on :-)
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Ian Soady said :-
Hi Ren

My apologies if this has been slightly hijacked - I promise to say no more even if provoked!
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Henrik said :-
I guess Linda is the owners wife,(mark willsmore), small world, and small shoes,..
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Ren - The Ed said :-
Oooooh it's all getting very serious now! Let's chill out folks. The Ace is what it is, my opinions are what they are and we'll never keep everyone happy. Now...where's me brew gone...
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Henrik said :-
*LOL* yes, peace and love,..
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A changing world said :-
London is a very different place to what it was. The entire culture and layout of the place today is almost unrecognisable, even when compared with what it was in the 1980s. The world changed really fast in the 20th century as well. I agree with the comments made in this article. I would just add that biker cafes were a haunt of the old working class, which is pretty much nonexistent today, especially in London. So, seeing as the cafe tries to recall that era, the food is bound to be pretty awful and the decor will be a bit debatable. The UK, but London especially, is a Teletubbies bubble. The countryside will always be nicer.
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Henrik said :-
Modern urban life-style, and "playning" with identity seems to go hand in hand. Sometimes with a certain awareness from the individual, but far to often without any reflection pon who you are, where from, and going where, this is where someone else can take advantage, and start to shape/rape you

As for London, we was there a few years back, for some days, compared to Paris it appeared more to me more as a mixed bag, a littly messy perhaps,
but a very charming mess :-) French are more "style and fashion" :-)

We was staying on a relatively humble hostel at Kings Cross, and it seemed to be a part of town without to much snob, or faked life-style cafe's, our visit was OK even though we prefer time in the nature. Stockholm next 2016.

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Monk said :-
I would just like to say that as a Londoner, born and bred not far from the original ACE, and now being 64 years young, I knew the ace when it was THE ACE and it was, at one time, I visited 66-67, a remarkable hang out. It isn't anymore, it's a museum and not the ACE it once was, that's a fact, it's the ace in name only, under very different management, in very different times.


19/01/2016 13:49:55 UTC
Monk said :-
Those WERE the days ...my friend!!!!
19/01/2016 13:50:51 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Eeeeee when I were a lad everything was black and white. Then they made the colour pills and things have never been the same.
22/01/2016 08:26:05 UTC
 

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