UPDATE March 2018: This cafe has now finally been knocked down and is being rebuilt. It will be run by local cafe maestros Brown & Green.
Crystal Palace Park Cafe in SE London, unlovely in concrete, is being knocked down at the end of February 2016 to make way for a new two-storey events centre with cafe. Yes, it has a bit of a ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ atmosphere on quieter days, not helped by its blinding interior lights that make everyone look ill and tired, but I still love this old place for its utter lack of pretension. It is naff, a brick box festooned with chintzy hanging baskets. The plastic chairs inside are locked to the floor so that you have to climb in and out of them. There is an outside bin in the shape of a KitKat ice cream. You don’t come here for wheatgrass shots and artisan breads, you come for chips, strong tea and massive platters of chicken and houmous. I enjoyed many greasy breakfast fry-ups here in days of yore when I used to go out clubbing. I now bring the kids and stuff them full of chips and juice, while I drain a fairly average coffee. In some ways, with all the choice we have in more superior local cafes (and I am grateful for them too), this place feels like a relief because it’s so no-frills, therefore I am very sad it’s being bulldozed.
The harsh lighting just adds to the Martin-Parr-esque atmosphere:
I love this bin:
But most of all, I love the MURALS. Behold – they represent ‘Crystal Palace – Past and Present’. There is something a bit Edward Hopper-ish about them, a dark undercurrent at work…
Scenes of nature!
Mallards and dinosaurs by the sauces – who could ask for more?
For these murals, we must praise Vincent & Julie. Thankfully they have included their phone number:
The mechanical giraffe and elephant keep watch outside:
I have witnessed on local social media networks and TripAdvisor that plenty of people despise this cafe, grumbling bitterly and regularly about its prices, especially its jacket potatoes which are apparently cheaper in Selfridges Food Hall. Yes, certain options on the menu are pretty expensive for basic cafe grub, but you can fill up on plates of chips and get hot drinks that are reasonably priced – that’s all I require most of the time. Indeed, the chicken kebab platter is an eyewatering £11.95, BUT you get enough to feed at least two hungry people. And the staff have always been really friendly and down-to-earth. It is a shame about the pricing, though – it has really turned people against this place.
By obliterating this cafe, I can’t help but feel that a little bit of history is being erased – a normal bog standard cafe where you can skulk comfortably and quietly. I find charm here, even if others would run a mile. Eventually, when the new cafe starts trading and a young trendy guy with a man bun and tattoos serves me a flat white and an instagrammable ‘breakfast bowl’ with a side of sourdough, I will really miss this old place. It’s like an uncool sweater.
BUT THE NEW PLACE WON’T HAVE THOSE MURALS, WILL IT.
I rest my case. Farewell, Crystal Palace Park Cafe. I will miss you, even if others won’t.