A Pollo Farewell

What with broadband internet, satellite TV and the like, news travels in micro-seconds these days. But sometimes, news that isn’t actually front page news takes a while longer to sink in. It took a visit to my friend Geoffrey Armes’ web site to see that it took him nine months to learn that one of London’s greatest institutions shuttered its doors last March. Yes, I’m talking about the Pollo on Old Compton Street, hands down my favorite café of all time. Where else would you so willingly suffer abuse at the hands of the waitresses and waiters because the food and the prices were so damn good? Where else would you be sat at the same table as a couple on a first date – and neither party complain? What other restaurant offered a handwritten menu of Biblesque proportions, a page for each form of pasta and its various sauces, rather than listing all the pastas and all the sauces on one page, and granting the diner the intelligence to mix and match? What other cafe made a cappucino that tasted like a cappucino should? Where else could you drink carafes of decent red wine at impossibly good prices? What other Soho cafe made you feel like you were in the London of the movies, not of the conglomerates? In short, what other Italian cafe-restaurant, right through the end of the 20th Century, did not just imitate but actually embodied the Soho of Absolute Beginners?

Pollo Cafe: Like many of the best places on earth, it wasn’t about the exterior….

In the words of Classic Cafés,

The passing of the Pollo, and its compatriots, signals the wholesale descent of Soho into Little Tyneside mode.

The area bounded by the four Circuses (St Giles, Oxford, Piccadilly, Cambridge) is rapidly becoming just another standard-issue British city centre: a dreck strip reeking of piss, blighted by St*rbucks, and heaving with feral packs of drunks.

A lousy pulsing puke puddle at the heart of the third-world capital of Europe.

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3 Comment(s)

  1. 14 December, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    Er, umm, let me, umm, politely note, that you linked twice to the Classic Cafes obituary instead of once to my blog about the closing. Where in the same entry I also posted some text about post-Rasta London and blah blah, for those that are that interested (following the Sinead/Rasta/Sexist stuff here). And, politely, I’ll note that James Westcott has got it all wrong (in that little extract), New York certainly isn’t any ‘smoother’ when it comes to getting all the quotidian crap done. And I’ll read that book. Thankyou very much!

  2. 14 December, 2005 at 7:01 pm


    Link corrected. Everyone, it is here:
    I remember reading that section of Music Matters several years ago and it was heavy then. It’s just as heavy now.
    I assume from your comments on Westcott that you’re referring to teh second quoted paragraph when you mention the ‘extract’. Do you agree with the first?


  3. 14 December, 2005 at 10:24 pm

    “might have done better to spend her time examining a more urgent problem—actually more of a pathology, in need of a national psychoanalysis. The English can’t ask clearly and directly for what they want, and this is precisely a function of our obsession with Truss-style politeness, which does a lot more than keep people safely at arm’s length. It makes us terrified of strangers and ashamed of our desires. Petulance, passive aggression, and a fear of strangers result. Give me the smoothness of New York interactions— especially with their bravado or bluntness—over the mutually assured dithering in English corner shops any day.”

    No, not really. Dithering corner shops? Not my experience in London. I suppose out in the sticks you can get fed up with slow service, but I see that more as a symptom of my over revved urban self—I mean big cities are pretty peculiar places visavis the rest of the world really—and that kind of rural dithering is extensive in the USA once you leave NYC.

    Interaction between strangers is less personal in NYC, I think there’s a tendency to avoid it actually, so maybe that’s an expression of ‘fear of strangers’–in NY, not London. One sidebar, it often seems to be migrants from other parts of America who are like that, native New Yorkers can be a lot more personable.

    I well remember returning to London after my first lengthy stay here, and hustling my way into the Post Office with all the face I needed (or felt I had needed) in New York, to suddenly realise that people were parting before me, basically apologising for being in the queu (how do you spell that?) ahead of me. Yeah, that’s English, to apologise needlessly, but infinitely preferable to the constant emotional aggression that goes on in NYC.

    To be fair I am comparing Central London and Manhattan, not Brixton and the Bronx, or even Stoke Newington and Flushing.

    I like politeness, it greases a society, makes interactions smooth. It’s like a code, a strucure or a framework to do all those interactions on.

    There’s some truth to Westcott’s assertions, no doubt, but I think he’s probably making an extreme case because the Voice is that kind of paper. Got us going, eh?


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