Turnpin Lane, SE10
“The best coffee in Greenwich”
That’s quite a boast, given the sheer number of cafes – both in the town centre and the surrounding streets, but it’s boldly stated outside this tiny little bolthole in one of Greenwich’s most curious alleyways. It’s a challenge that at least doesn’t go unnoticed.
The weird thing is that in many ways I hadn’t really noticed, until relatively recently, the cleverly titled Coffee Cellar, next door to JOY’s back entrance (oooh-err, missus),despite the fact that it must have been here for years. Either this curious place used to be something else back in the swinging sixties (from the decor I’d say that was the date of its last refit) or that’s as long as its owner has been lurking in the darkness here.
Turnpin Alley is narrow and gloomy, brightened only by its funky little shops – Red Door, Daisy Cakes Bake etc. – and it isn’t a natural first choice to sit at the tiny little tables outside, craning to find the last remaining rays of sun. Besides, what makes this place so interesting is its unreconstituted 1960s (early 70s, perhaps?) interior.
Upstairs, the minute shop is painted in muted buff, peppered with stools and a little bar against the banister of the staircase leading down to a lounge-area, also small, and pleasingly scruffy, with low chairs and tables, to be peeked at through a circular window. In itself nothing particularly special.
What really makes this place cool is the tiny little hutch right at the back, from which the coffee is dispensed. The serving hatch to it is also circular but, in suitably psychedelic fashion, the walls behind it are in fabulous mottled-orange mosaic tiles – the closest Greenwich gets to a Mod coffee bar. I’d put money on it’s being original, and can almost smell the Vespa oil. A photo of the owner from days gone by gives another clue that I was just unobservant in the past. Service is friendly, and although the guy installed in the kiosk-bit at the back seemed at first taciturn, I got a big smile halfway through my coffee that brought a warm glow to my heart (ahhh…)
What I like about this place is that it has clearly evolved (a very tiny bit) rather than being ‘created’ like modern “theme bars.” A place that had been ‘styled’ would have, in the niche above the stairs for example, a funky Mod phone or display of 1960s kitsch. What it actually has is a kettle and two equally unremarkable canisters. A theme bar wouldn’t include modern metal racks for an odd assortment of organic goods in the window. And yet, somehow it’s absolutely ok here. The walls have displays of local artists’ work – there’s currently some stunning photos of the moon in Greenwich Park and sundry musicians by local photographer Idris de Angeli. I happily passed the time reading from the selection of What’s On leaflets which appeared to be quite different from those I’ve seen in other places. I found a couple of things I’ll be checking out later from them.
And the coffee? Well it certainly is very good. The best in Greenwich? I’m not sure. More research needs to be done…