The Ace Cafe is an icon. On the one hand it is just a greasy spoon cafe on London’s North Circular; on the other hand it is a magical place which conjures up images of leather-clad rockers, motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll.
Of course I have heard of the Ace Cafe, but I had never visited it until a couple of weekends ago, when this sorry state of affairs was rectified. I was not disappointed.
We had ridden down to visit friends in Surrey for the August Bank Holiday weekend. Our friends are keen Harley Davidson people and, as it happened, on that Sunday there was a Harley Davidson Day at the Ace Cafe. As the Ace Cafe is only about an hour’s ride away, we figured why not?
The Ace Cafe was built as a road-side cafe in 1938 to cater for hauliers, but it soon started to attract motorcyclists. It was rebuilt in 1949, having been badly damaged during the war, and became a favourite haunt of the new breed of “teenagers”. The British motorcycle industry was at its peak and Rock ‘n’ Roll music had found its way to these shores, and the two blended perfectly at the Ace. The Ton-Up Boys became infamous and a reputation for trouble followed them.
Sadly all good things come to an end and the Ace closed in 1969. But legends such as this never disappear without trace and in the early 1990s plans were hatched to re-open the Ace on the original site. Ace Cafe reunions were held, and were attended by thousands. Finally after a complete rebuild, the Ace Cafe was re-opened in September 2001.
Now the Ace Cafe is once again a Mecca for motor-heads of all descriptions: Rockers, Mods, sports bike riders, car enthusiasts, you name it. And so it was that, on this particular Bank Holiday Sunday, it was Harley Davidson day.
As we headed off the weather was not promising: it was grey and drizzly. The route was also not great: M3/ M25/ M4. We arrived early, at around 1130, and the car park in front of the Ace was not particularly busy. Nonetheless, we non-Harley riders were directed off to a far corner of the car park to hide our bikes from view.
We divested ourselves of our wet riding gear and made for the cafe for a healthy portion of chilli and chips and to absorb the ambience of this iconic place. In search of interesting eateries we often find ourselves in American-style diners and, at its core, the Ace is not all that different, but it is more authentic somehow, more down-to-earth, more basic – more British dammit!
Slowly the weather improved. The sun made an appearance and with it, so did the Harleys. As the afternoon progressed they turned up in their droves. Many of the riders were wearing HOG (Harley Owners Group) patches: most were relatively local to the London area, but many came from further afield, including one from Spain and one from South Africa. People are obviously willing to travel to visit such an iconic place.
A band played on the back of a flat bed truck and we enjoyed a happy couple of hours soaking up the sun and wandering around admiring the various machinery on show: there is no such thing as a standard Harley!
So, if you like motor vehicles or are just interested in soaking up some left over 1950s nostalgia I highly recommend the Ace Cafe – get your leathers on and give it a go!