Ton-Up London: The Ace Cafe
My father loved motorbikes; the idea of ‘doing a ton’ and then stopping at the Ace Cafe was ingrained in him. The art deco cafe had opened in the thirties, was bombed in the forties and reopened in the fifties. It became the destination for anyone who loved motorbikes, a ‘Back To The Future’-style hangout for bikesters.
I suppose it’s my idea of hell, being designed for petrolheads with slicked-back hair and leather jackets, but it’s also a Greater London icon, and has featured in the iconography of the fifties and sixties. The Ace Cafe opened in 1938 to accommodate traffic on the new North Circular road. Because the cafe was open 24 hours a day, it started to attract bikers. It became popular with the Ton-Up boys in the 1950s and the Rockers in the 1960s and was where the motorcycling priest Bill Shergold came to invite them to the 59 Club.
The cafe was rebuilt in 1949 after being destroyed in a WWII air raid. Events in the post-war environment made the Ace a success – the emergence of the teenager, increase in traffic, and the British motorcycle industry at its peak. Many young people started to meet at the cafe with their motorcycles and listen to rock’n’roll. Many bands and motorcycle enthusiast groups formed there.
Sidney J Furie’s 1964 movie ‘The Leather Boys’ used the cafe extensively and helped to turn it into an icon. The cafe finally closed in 1969. The ground floor of the building became a tyre sales and fitting shop. The first floor was occupied by a vehicle delivery company.
But I didn’t realise that it had it reopened in 1997. Rockers and motorcyclists from all over the world now go to the Ace to attend themed meetings and share stories. It is no longer open 24-hours but the cafe now has a full calendar of events, hosting live music and DJs, and is approved for weddings and civil partnerships. How times change.