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Literary London

The New Piccadilly Café

Peter Higgins

Another gem bites the dust. Peter Higgins hijacks LL to mourn the passing of a Soho legend.

The New Piccadilly Café sits snugly behind the rush and bustle of Piccadilly Circus. I must have walked past it a hundred times and I missed a gem.

The café was established by Pietro Marioni in 1951, when Soho was a thriving underworld of gangsters, prostitutes and immigrants, and Pietro’s son, Lorenzo Marioni, has been working at the café since he was seven.

With its beautiful fifties sign, original Formica tables and staff dressed in white coats, the NPC was a friendly port of call for those of Soho’s creative community who were in the know. But with rents out of control and the redevelopment of Denman Street afoot, this much-loved place is being destroyed. 

As this little bit of history disappears, I thought it only fitting to hand my column over to the reminiscences of NPC regular and PP contributor, Peter Higgins:


The New Piccadilly Café is closing down. And this is all right. But I will miss the place, all the same. It’s been there, on Denman Street, London W1, for over fifty years.  

Ideally placed for Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square, the New Piccadilly is (sorry, was) a favourite haunt of actors, stage managers, writers and film-nuts. A card-carrying member of this last group, I would install myself in my favourite booth (the one beneath the posters for Snoopy: The Musical and Lapdancer: A New Play) and feel right at home. The coffee came in transparent cups, and the tabletops were the colour of custard. The staff wore white uniforms. It was like being on a ship. The Titanic, perhaps?

I asked the waiter who served me every week what his name was. ‘My real name?’ he said, ‘or my professional name?’ It was that kind of place. He told me his real name. He’d worked there for twenty years. What was he going to do, now that the café was finally closing? ‘Get some rest.’

Lorenzo, the silver-haired proprietor, didn’t approve of gossip about the regulars. What David Essex, Jarvis Cocker and Frank Finlay might, or might not, have got up to in the New Piccadilly Café was their business.

My waiter was more forthcoming. Several films had used the location for instant atmosphere, instant bohemian cred. They did The Girl In The Café here. Of course. He himself had appeared in Kinky Boots, though not, he assured me, in kinky boots.  

I was privileged to be in attendance when a certain well-known TV character actor was holding court, in between rehearsals. He’d spent the last two months stealing every scene from a top-of-the-bill US film star/director, and he had one or two things he wanted to get off his chest. The afternoon flew by. I was supposed to be somewhere else, but was glad I was there, instead. But now, I suppose, I’ll have to go somewhere else.

Larkin’s poem, which I ripped off at the start of this piece, goes on:


The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same


On the day the closure was announced, they unveiled the nine-feet-high Nelson Mandela. Progress is fine by me. We didn’t always get things right in that foreign country we call the past. Which is where the New Piccadilly Café now belongs. Yesterday it was always there. Tomorrow it’s gone.

But there is no point getting sentimental about a place where people went to eat and talk and drink and laugh. Times change. The New Piccadilly Café has closed down, and it is all right.


The New Piccadilly Café, 8 Denman Street, Soho

To find out about more past and present cafés, go to: www.classiccafes.co.uk