Why Nobody Needs Starbucks


IMG_2780I walked into Gran Sasso, my local neighbourhood coffee shop on Caledonian Road at King’s Cross this morning, and was served my coffee like this; it’s my birthday. The staff also bought me breakfast (they do amazing Italian paninis with creamed eggs and sundried tomatoes). Meanwhile, there’s a run-down looking Starbucks nearby that has a sleepy queue of office drones in it – why wouldn’t they walk another 20 yards and get real Italian coffee served by real Italians? Am I missing something?

So, let’s talk about London loves and hates.

I’ll say one thing for this city; if you spend a full day and evening out in it, you can’t sit on the fence about how the time went. I’m all over town like a cheap suit most days and boy, there are things I love and hate about London;

LOVE The new wave of beardy pubs to go with the Shoreditch beardy look, from E8’s Hand of Glory boozer themed around ‘The Wicker Man’ to Clerkenwell’s The Slaughtered Lamb from ‘An American Werewolf In London’ and The Holborn Whippet in Sicilian Avenue.

HATE The deafening new tube and railway station announcements which treat you as if you were a very stupid child, with endless warnings, explanations and pointless, witless interjections (‘We are currently being held at a red light, I’ll update you in a moment when we move again’), all designed to wreck your reading habits.

LOVE New London nosh, with US regional food other than hot dogs finally getting attention (although it’s still all a bit beige), and new menu simplicity. From the Holborn Dining Room to The Jugged Hare it seems that well-cooked unpretentious food from short, well-sourced menus is in – and decent London beers are being given as much prominence as overrated French wine lists – about time!

HATE The impossibility of getting into fringe theatres which now consider themselves to be part of the West End, like the Almeida and the Donmar – we locals supported you through the lean years, dammit, and this is how you repay us? With ramped-up prices and prioritised memberships?

LOVE Indies and pop-ups – more please so that we can force high streets to stop filling up with tax-exempt ‘charity’ shops (killing the book trade) and insanely-overpriced estate agents. Let’s have music, media and comic shop revivals, and bring back swap shops!

HATE The new London housing cons – what’ll it be, ‘luxury loft living’ for deposed war criminals or dosh-raking student accommodation? Nothing for ordinary hardworking Londoners, then?

LOVE Gran Sasso, HATE Starbucks.

Feel free to add your loves and hates.

26 comments on “Why Nobody Needs Starbucks”

  1. Jo W says:

    Happy Birthday Admin! Hope you enjoy your day. Won’t list my loves and hates in London,as there just isn’t the space here.

  2. pheeny says:

    Love Borough Market (even if only to look at)
    Despise Covent Garden for losing all its quirkiness and becoming yet another bland cluster of the usual suspects
    Love the free green open spaces
    Hate the grime and the tourist rip offs

  3. pheeny says:

    and many happy returns

  4. Mim says:

    Happy birthday!

    I love London on my infrequent visits, but wouldn’t want to live there. It’s a city to have a holiday romance with, for me, and I shall try to look up some of the new pubs next time I’m there 🙂 I do always enjoy the indie shops, though, and that’s true wherever I go. I can’t understand people who travel anywhere and then want to eat/drink/buy whatever they have at home. What’s the point of travelling?

  5. Stephen Groves says:



  6. Elizabeth Endicott says:

    Happy Birthday from across the pond!

  7. Bob Low says:

    Happy Birthday, and many more of them!

  8. Renzo says:

    Happy Birthday Chris!

  9. Patricia Penon says:

    Happy Birthday!!

  10. Happy Birthday, Fellow Chris!

  11. Vivienne says:

    Well, how to begin with London? I do love the grime – that sort that seems to have stayed around since Dickens’ time: there are still a few dark corners. The Thames – up or downstream, and the ability to get down onto the foreshore. The old shops like Paxton & Whitfield, and the new quirky ones that spring up near Brick Lane. Hate? Yes, the scruffier high streets with all the same shops in. Any why cannot the message say. ’We are being held at a red signal, BUT will be moving shortly. The ‘and’ drives me mad. But, Happy Birthday.

  12. John says:

    Well, mentioning your birthday in an aside certainly got you a lot of well wishers! You 50-something devil, you. I’ll do what no one else is doing since I love to complain….

    HATE: The equally moronic announcements on our public transport. “Please give up your seat for the elderly, disabled and pregnant women.” As if the self-absorbed commuters would ever do such a thing as look up from their twittering fingers on their iPhones.

    HATE: Tourists who come to Chicago and deface or destroy our public art.

    HATE: The way all cafes have become study halls for students of all ages and private offices for the “self-employed.” Whatever happened to socializing in cafes? My biggest pet peeve for the past ten years has been these selfish types who sit alone at a fourtop with an empty coffee cup and the table covered with a laptop, books and piles of paperwork. GO HOME!

    HATE: Obnoxious bar crowds spilling out into the street for smoke breaks who act as if the public sidewalk is a sort of private room.

    LOVE: The explosion of street fairs in the summertime
    LOVE: Evanston Farmer’s Market every summer, too. Plus a handful of other farmer’s markets located in various spots throughout the city’s Northside.
    LOVE: The three still secret spots on the lakefront that have yet to be discovered by tourists or loud college students
    LOVE The construction of the bike ramp that will travel over the deadly intersection on Lake Shore Drive, thereby increasing safety for all and lessening injuries and fatalities to bicyclists

    BTW — If you’re getting “beige” American regional food, then no one is cooking it properly. The only beige food I’ve ever eaten is oatmeal. Anything else over here has lots of color and eye appeal. Vegetables are making a comeback (amazingly!), especially kale in all its varieties. The heavy meat based regional dishes will usually be deep fried or charred so you should be seeing golden brown or barbecue brownish red. Certainly not beige.

  13. Punt says:

    I just finished your latest Bryant and May and I am embarrassed to say I’m unable to repay with a gift for you today. Only feeble blather …not even a code that matters. Just have a Happy Birthday …and like your writing …many many more! Punt in Winnipeg

  14. J. Folgard says:

    Happy birthday from across the channel, too! I hope you had a nice day then, London pros and cons notwithstanding. Cheers!

  15. Dan Terrell says:

    Beware of people who sneak up on you and suddenly scream:


  16. Helen Martin says:

    And then whisper it again in case you missed the scream – happy birthday.
    Most of us hate the same things:unnecessary dirt and noise, crowds that push you where you don’t want to go, the destruction of favourite places and objects and the erection of ugly uselessness. We love the same things: comfortable places to eat where you are welcome and don’t have to spend a fortune, places to buy the things which are necessary for *you*, weather which supports your activities (and good luck with controlling that!), a municipal authority which actually listens, and architecture which actually adds to the pleasure of living in the city.
    Feel free to add.

  17. Red Wolf says:

    Happy birthday!

    I don’t understand Starbucks. I’ve been once and that was only due to my regular coffee shop being closed over the Xmas break. I was met with overpriced, poor quality, bland products, so opted to skip their crap and wait for my regular place to reopen.

    On the up side, Starbucks never really understood the local market and aside from a handful of locations (capital city CBDs, airports) that appear to cater solely to American tourists looking for a familiar face, have mostly departed Australia. Good.

  18. Lee Ann says:

    Happy Birthday!

  19. Jeanette says:

    Love independent shops and cafes. Found a small Italian cafe today for lunch. Will be returning, received such a lovely welcome. Hate I hate when visiting friends and rellies,” shall we go into town?” Noooooo it has the same shops as my High street, also when friends and rellies visit me they want to go to the High Street. Why? We have Steep Hill, full of independent shops, named best street in the UK 2012. We have a cathedral and a castle (Lincoln).

    Love London Parks. The archives. The guy at Paddington Rail Station ticket office, who was not automated and made me laugh so much.

    Hate Have been living away from London to know what I would hate about living there again.

    Happy Birthday Christopher

  20. Dan Terrell says:

    As an American, I guess that’s the reason, sometimes you really need a Starbucks. Honestly. And I haven’t run into the sort of Starbucks you all seem to have found: dirty, sloppy, poor, etc, They’re out there I am sure, but I haven’t found myself in one …. yet. However, I much prefer tasty and mild German Tchibo coffee or Israeli military coffee that takes no prisoners.

  21. Ralph Williams says:

    Recently went for a holiday to Barcelona and same thing applies – why go on holiday to Spain and then visit a Starbucks?

    Thing I love about London: Foyles & Watermark book shops

    Thing I hate about London: Public Transport-wise the city seems to shut down on Sundays

  22. Diogenes says:

    We need Starbuck’s so the Mystery Man has somewhere to go where a standardised menu allows him to eat despite his numerous life threatening food allergies and intolerances.

  23. Peter Arcane says:

    This wish is late so that you can celebrate longer. Happy Birthday.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    You can celebrate until the last greeting comes. Never mind how you’re supposed to know when it’s the last greeting. A friend of mine was able to celebrate for two months once under that rule.
    (You have to hit the (leave a comment button if you wish to actually leave that comment.)

  25. Peter says:

    Happy Birthday!

  26. Fiona says:

    Happy birthday – bit late. I quite like Notes cafe which has one in St Martin’s Lane and one opposite the London Film Museum. I like having a bit of a wander around the book shops in Charing Cross road. I love the BFI and the fact that people watching films there are there to watch the film, not chat during/text during/eat a large plate of tortilla chips or hot-dogs. My pet hate is people turning up late to films and disturbing all the people who made the effort to get there before it actually started. They should stop selling tickets and letting people in once the film has started. But that’s not just a London based hate, that’s a general hate. I hate that people don’t give up seats for elderly people/pregnant women/small children but I also hate when mothers go on self-righteous rants about how badly they are treated on their commute. Yes, there are a lot of rude and inconsiderate people on the tube and I’ve been pushed about by them too, you don’t have to be a mother to get that treatment. Although, I understand wanting their little ones not to be stamped on or growled at! I love the gardens near Embankment tube first thing in the morning when I walk to work and there’s no-one else about and seeing a group of pigeons having a communal bath in a puddle. I hate the huge groups of tourists I have to fight through to get to work because I’m based near the main tourist attractions. I must appear in a million photos world-wide. I hate seeing the rubbish left lying around from people too lazy to use bins. I like that I keep finding new things, like spotting a sign saying Newton Institute in a road off Leicester Square and a plaque on a house saying he had lived there.

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