Heritage: ACE Cafe London celebrates 80th anniversary with retro party and CD launch
PUBLISHED: 13:10 13 April 2018
Revving engines and rock ‘n’ roll marked the 80th anniversary celebrations of an iconic roadside cafe in Stonebridge.
Ace Cafe London hosted a live gig on April 8 at the launch of its Ace 80th CD album which charts its history through music.
Managing directors Mark and Linda Wilsmore have teamed up with Western Star Records to produce a special double album with 46 rock n’ roll tracks from the 50s to the present day.
Rusti Steel & The Star Tones together with The Bad Detectives, two of the 23 bands featured on the album, played at the Ace event which started at noon and finished late.
Mark said: “We wanted to do something special to mark the cafe’s 80 anniversary. It’s a privilege to be involved with something that means so much to so many people.”
Ace Cafe was built in 1938 as a roadside cafe to cater for traffic using the then new North Circular Road.
During WW2 the building was destroyed and then rebuilt in 1948 to herald a new dawn in entertainment.
One of the first cafes to use neon signage, the Ace stayed open 24 hours and soon attracted hoards of young motorcyclists.
Linda said: “The advent of the teenager in the early fifties saw the Ace booming with the arrival of the Ton-Up boys. The motorcycle industry was at its peak when along came rock n’ roll. It wasn’t played on radio stations, so the only places it could be heard were at fair grounds or on jukeboxes in transport cafes.”
The jukeboxes gave rise to a new game where motorcyclists would drop a coin into the slot then race to a given point and back before the record finished. “It turned the North Circular into an unofficial race track,” she said.
Come the ‘60s the Ace became the launch pad for many rock n’ roll bands including Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
It was also used as the setting for The Leather Boys, a cult film starring Stonebridge actor Colin Campbell, whose funeral was covered by the Times.
In recent years it has appeared in Top Gear, an episode of Car SOS and on the National Geographic channel.
It is in part because of the growth of the car market that the cafe became little more than a ‘greasy spoon’ and it closed in 1969 when the owner retired.
The building was used a filling station and tyre depot until 1993 when Mark, driven by his passion for “bikes, rock n’ roll and history”, got permission from the owners to hold an event marking 25 years of the cafe’s closure.
He said: “I wanted somewhere to go to drink tea. Because of the history and the heritage there’s a shared peer group, different aged groups, different Harley groups, or Cadillac groups. I wanted to bring those together.”
The party in September 1994 attracted 12,000 motorcyclists and rock n’ roll fans.
A seven year “labour of love” followed to obtain planning consent to turn the premises back into a café and eventually buy the site and building.
Then in 1999 disaster struck.
Buried ten feet under the Ace car park a hatch on the main water supply exploded. The blast sent debris and bikes into the air, shattered window panes and damaged the roof. The flood submerged the North Circular under water which was closed for a week.
A grand re-opening took place in September 2001, turning it into a modern fully licensed cafe-restaurant with its own shop and colourful history adorning its walls.
Staff host a weekly vehicle meet, its Hot Rod Night the longest running. There are film, book and campaign launches and the space is hired out for parties and weddings.
The business has grown too, with licenced cafes now open in global destinations include Finland, Canada and Beijing, all with the signature car park to cafe hangouts.
In 2009 the Ace Cafe won Brent Council’s “Best Bar None” award for local bars.
The party on Sunday brought all its petrol heads and music fans together.
Ace Cafe London is open seven days a week from 7am and closes at 11pm, 2pm on ‘special Saturdays’ and 10.30pm on Sundays.