With a few of the staff here at Fitted Life getting heavily stuck into Cafe Racer bike projects, I wanted to share with you all a bit about the legendary place where the English “Rockers” called home. ‘The Ace Cafe London,’ to quote its full title, can be found in North West London, alongside one of the older carriageways of the city, the ‘North Circular’.
The Ace as it’s commonly known originally opened in 1938 as a transport Cafe to accommodate for the growing amount of traffic on the adjacent road network. During the 2nd World War, the Cafe was damaged during an air raid and in the late 40s, it was rebuilt and is now the design you see today.
After the War is when the Ace really grew and gained its legendary status. The increase in traffic alongside the Cafe played a big part as well as the motorcycle culture in the UK which was growing rapidly. The British bikes were fast and desired by all across the world. However nothing helped more than the rise of the “teenager.” Attracted to the motorcycle culture, these bikers were different to the ones of old, not having the same values or conventions, but they were rebels and quested for their own identity in society.
Leather jackets and jeans became their uniform and their wild ways were addicted to speed! The ‘brotherhood’ that formed from this had a significant influence on the youth culture of the UK. These young people gained the name of the “Ton-Up-Boys”. The ton being the magic speed of 100mph through the city streets of London with regular races taking place on the North Circular road. The bikes were ridden hard by their dare devil pilots!
Many of these young people would call the Ace their home, meeting there with their bikes, forming groups and clubs, and making plans for runs. All this happened under the sound track of Rock & Roll. This music was something that was still very new and was not played on any of the UK’s official radio stations. The Ace of course played it loud and proud on the jukebox!
It would be easy to say that these young people were copying the American style and yes most of the original influences were adopted from the States, but they were developed in a unique British fashion.
The riders of the Ace Cafe stood out in British society. They were outsiders and non conformists and the media of the time fanned the fire whenever they could. They were labelled as ‘disturbers of the peace’ and gained the now known title of “Rockers”.
This refuge to the outcasts of society meant that Ace quickly became more than a cafe to many. It was a place to meet your friends, grab a bite to eat and a cup of tea all within the safety of your own tight knit community.
Sadly the boom of the Ace Cafe came to an end with the decline of the motorbike industry in the 60s and the expansion of the motorway network, which in turn took traffic away from the Ace, leading to the last all day breakfast being served there in 1969.
On the 25th anniversary of the cafe closing, an event was organized to arrange for motorcycle runs to converge on the former Ace Cafe site one Sunday in September of 1994. This idea blossomed into a major motorcycle and Rock & Roll event with an estimated 12000 people gathering at the site of the old Cafe. This event and its huge success led to the organization and eventual reopening of the cafe in 1997 on the original site.
The Cafe itself underwent a huge refurbishment and opened its doors again in 2001, adorned with Ace logos on the floor, the walls and the glass panels that make up the front of house. Along with the jukebox playing classic hits in the corner you would be forgiven for forgetting what era you were in. The atmosphere is one of true British heritage. Just to add to it all, alongside the tables it’s not uncommon to find some classic bikes, beautiful ones that don’t look out of place at all whilst you dig into your burger and chips.
Nowadays the legendary Ace attracts Rockers and motorcyclists from all over the world. The building has heard many tales from riders from across the globe. It’s no longer a 24 hour cafe, but it has an extensive calendar for petrol heads of any kind, whether it’s car or bike based.
The variety of events it holds now and their success show the widespread appeal that Ace still has today: meets that can involve anything from scooters, old American hot rods right through to the latest and biggest horsepower European exotics.
For me the Ace Cafe is a special place. It’s somewhere where you can just enjoy everyone’s company as well as appreciate the various cars and bikes that attend from night to night. In my eyes it’s still the home for the rebels for those that don’t wish to or simply can’t conform. It is a haven for the old ‘Rocker’ spirit.
Ace oozes history and I recommend you come and experience it for yourself. If there is something going on then the doors are always open!
See you at the Ace!