The Ace Cafe was first opened as a transport cafe in Stonebridge, London in 1938.
Providing refreshment for drivers on the, recently opened, Northern Circular road, the cafe was rebuilt in 1949 , after being destroyed in the midst of World War II.
Opening for 24 hours a day, the cafe was a staple for long distance drivers looking to feed up before a big drive. However, opening at all hours of the day tends to attract an alternative kind of clientele – one that you might not want in your establishment.
Word got around about a new place, open 24 hours, just outside of the city. Biker gangs, who were just starting to pick up popularity in the 50s, started frequenting the venue.
Although they were initially deemed as troublesome, the amount of custom that they provided more than made up for any hassle they caused.
Soon the ace cafe had become a hub for mod and rocker culture with hundreds of moped and bike riding men in their twenties showing up every night to knock back drinks and listen to rock and roll music. The place successfully fulfilled the roadside bar fantasy that had been perpetuated through American Cinema and young Brits were eager to get a slice of the action.
In 1969, the cafe was unceremoniously closed, making room for a new service station further down the M1, however; that wasn’t to be the end of the Ace Cafe.
25 years later, Mark Wilsmore, a loyal patron of the Cafe back in the 60s, organised a reunion. Bringing together past regulars, as well as scores of other individuals who had been influenced by the venue’s legendary status; 12,000 visitors attended the event. Life had been brought back to the venue and this led to the doors officially reopening in 1997.
Today, the Ace Cafe isn’t open 24 hours, but it does still pay homage to the impact that the place had on Motoring Culture; they hold regular meetings, car festivals and live music events.
I recently travelled out to the cafe to check out their monthly Mini Meet.
I’ve never quite understood the infatuation that people have with Minis. Putting aside their starring turns in the classic crime caper, The Italian Job, I’ve always felt that their stature in the Automotive world has been unnecessarily high. I’ve always preferred the slightly larger, but significantly beefier, Morris 1100 as a classic compact car.
There’s nothing like a car fair to change your mind though. By the time I left the Classic Mini Meet, which is held on the first Thursday of every month at the Ace Cafe, I was positively itching to buy one of my own – much to the chagrin of my husband!
As with all car meets, half the enjoyment you get out of the events is in the meeting of the people, rather than the cars themselves. Car enthusiasts have got a funny way of transferring their excitement and passion onto others.
I’d only planned on staying for a half hour or so, but pretty soon I was popping bonnets and asking about tuning and exhausts, thankfully the friendly owners were only too eager to answer.
The Ace Cafe runs several regular car meets, so if Minis aren’t your thing there should be another event that takes your fancy. As a slice of UK automotive history, it’s a place that every gearhead should visit at least once.