High caffeine, low rent
March 14, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Where in London can I buy a filter coffee and read undisturbed for hours? Should be quiet, needn't be 'nice', Bow or London Bridge locations a bonus but all considered.

When I lived in Cambridge, I used to go to the food court at The Grafton Centre, a slightly grotty shopping mall, to buy a cheap and nasty filter coffee from a takeaway pizza place which had used to be a Sbarro. The owners had painted over the Sbarro signage but retained many of the trimmings, presumably because it seemed like a waste of money to buy new ones. It wasn't heavily used - they had many, many more chairs than patrons - or heavily serviced, so I didn't feel bad about stretching my drink out while I read books on Lacan and Critical Theory, pencil in hand, headphones in. Sometimes when I got hungry I'd have a slice of pizza for about £1.50. I went there about three times a week after work, and always had the same thing, but they never acknowledged me as a regular or guessed my order before I gave it to them. It was heaven. I only stopped going when their coffee jug broke and they made it clear they had no immediate plans to replace it.

Now I'm living in London and haven't found anywhere comparable. I'd like to go somewhere where I can buy a cheap filter coffee - none of this latte bullshit - and make it last for hours without being made to feel bad. Somewhere with a lot of space and no atmosphere, where I can be invisible. Preferably somewhere within easy reach of home - Bow - or work - London Bridge - but I'd travel further afield if necessary. I travel to and from work via Canary Wharf, but all the coffee establishments there seem pricey, only serve latte bullshit, and have the kind of table service where they glare at you after half an hour. I'd prefer somewhere where you could die in your seat at 10 AM, have teenagers use you for chip target practice all day, and only be discovered late in the evening by a lady with a mop and a tragic backstory. That serves cheap filter coffee. Do I make myself plain?
posted by Acheman to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It's not London Bridge or Bow, but the Barbican Centre is great for this. Buy a coffee at the Waterfront Cafe, then drink it in the cafe (which has that great public-sector-institution vibe where the staff really don't care too much about profit and patron turnover) or in the main lobby, which is full of comfy seating, or outside in fine weather, or on the seating upstairs. (I'm 99% sure you don't have to get latte bullshit; if you do, you could even buy a coffee at some greasy spoon on Whitecross Street or Aldersgate and bring it with you - they might frown on bringing it into the cafe itself, but not to the rest of the centre.) You can probably buy books on Lacan and Critical Theory at the Barbican, to be frank, and you can certainly round off your evening with an arthouse film in an otherwise empty auditorium. Hooray for Corporation of London council tax payers!
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:19 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

The cafe in the British Film Institute on the Southbank. Website makes it look way nicer than it is. I have picked up a cup of filter coffee (and usually grab a soup a little later...cheap-ish) and sat working in here for hours undisturbed. It ranges from empty to packed according to film times. Actually, I wrote almost my entire MA thesis in this cafe.
posted by meerkatty at 11:23 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The cafe is being refurbished at the BFI at the moment though.
posted by Mintyblonde at 11:36 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, massive multifunction cultural institutions seem a decent bet - the BFI cafe as mentioned above is great but perhaps a bit nice-and-small for your tastes (there are two cafes there and the one at the back, which is the better of the two, is not currently being refurbished; but is a bit more crowded given that the other one is shut). The Royal Festival Hall next door is bigger and people are basically guaranteed not to notice you or pay any attention ever; it's great for the kind of thing you want (and like the Barbican there are multiple levels, so there's always somewhere out-of-the-way to sit).

Bit of a hike from London Bridge though; right near London Bridge I would try the pizza-and-chicken place on Tooley Street, just to the right as you come out of the station - it's up a staircase, all vast-cavern-of-fluorescent-lights, generally looks like surely it's about to go bankrupt (or did last time I was there, maybe it has by now). Not entirely sure the coffee isn't instant though. Or, maybe a better bet, the cafe in Guy's Hospital just behind the station.

If you get really desperate, there's a cafe at Fulham Broadway, at the south-west junction of North End Road and Lillie Road: it's a daftly cheap place where they are happy for you to sit for hours, with a greasy toilet accessible only through the kitchen, where you can see the vast pools or bright yellow oil in which chips have been frying. But I'm sure there are many others that are much easier for you to get to - I only know about this one because I get my photocopying done around the corner, and often have a few hours to kill there.
posted by severalbees at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding Barbican and much of the South Bank, especially for their multi-level arrangement. (Not the BFI cafe though - being refurbished last time I looked, per others' comments - and after refurbishment I think it's going to be a concession for Benugo, so lower chance of long-term coffee ekage.)

Er... that's it.
posted by laumry at 12:36 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Sorry: "that's it" means "that's all I have on this", not "that's all the choice you have".)
posted by laumry at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2009

Love Monmouth Coffee Company, they have locations in Covent Garden, The Borough, Borough Market. Reviews here and here. Enjoy!
posted by nam3d at 12:47 PM on March 14, 2009

website here http://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk
posted by nam3d at 12:48 PM on March 14, 2009

Mezzanine floor of the British Library. It's quiet, serves coffee and is the last place on earth you'll be glared at for sitting and reading.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:58 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not too far from Bow, Hulyas cafe in Cambridge Heath Road, (just north of York Hall) might be worth a try.It's a greasy spoon and pretty relaxed. Starbucks and the other chains have thankfully yet to make much headway in this part of London so you should be spoilt for choice.
posted by amestoy at 4:15 PM on March 14, 2009

How about the Union Theatre Cafe? It's not so far from London Bridge, its cheap, friendly, and I've certainly sat in their and read.
posted by tallus at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to this question, for the last few weeks (Fridays, some Wednesdays, and occasionally at the weekend) I've been walking along the riverfront to the Southbank Centre and drinking coffee in the Royal Festival Hall. It's fabulous, filter, £1.30 and they don't even give you a tray or put your milk in for you. This is very much what I was looking for. An additional benefit is that the space is large enough to go for fidgety walks around, and that the Clore Ballroom is covered with ridiculously comfortable beanbags. I feel as if I'm in some weird scifi fake utopia and people must be being quietly euthanised in the basement. The occasional odd free jazz-and-trance-beats-and-noir-movie mashup does not make this seem any less likely. A most pleasing discovery; many thanks.
posted by Acheman at 3:27 PM on April 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

« Older We Come In Peace - Really   |   Is there an alternative to harmful herbicides that... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.