February 10, 2012 by The Editor
Finding Leather Lane was perhaps inevitable the longer we were in London. It is no wonder that we did not really ‘discover’ it on our various trips here in the past, since weekends on Leather Lane and Hatton Garden, a parallel street that serves as the City’s diamond district, are rather quiet. On weekdays Leather Lane is a vibrant street market, with typical offerings that range from purses to burritos to cut-rate cereal. The storefronts of the diamond district meanwhile are alluring even if you’re not shopping for gems. For me, the vintage jewellery shops are always difficult to pass without a quick peruse of the old trinkets.
These streets draw a huge lunchtime crowd from the nearby office buildings and banks as well as the nearby residential areas. Like the market at Whitecross Street and others around the city, these are the areas where Fancy City meets Prada Knockoff and get friendly over a cup of coffee. Cafes and pubs compete with Middle Eastern and Italian delis to fill the bellies of London’s hungry office workers. To my surprise, as yet, there are relatively few chain operations like Eat and Pret-a-Manger around Leather Lane.
To my great delight there are a couple of cafes that have opened here in the last year or so that have proven themselves well suited for spending an hour or two when I need to get out of the flat or to buy some coffee beans. There is The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, which is nice but I must say I don’t go there much. I’m not sure why. It may have something to do with Prufrock, just down the street. Prufrock is to Leather Lane as Intelligentsia is to Broadway in Chicago or Gimme Coffee is to State Street in Ithaca. It’s really the place to go if you want some excellent coffee, decent people watching, generally good music (unless they’re feeling jazzy which is never my preference), and an affable staff.
Nearly all of my adult life, I have been looking for a good cafe, where-ever I’ve been. It started in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1987 the year I arrived at university. Espresso Royale had just supplanted an old electronics store and set itself up as the pre-Starbucks answer to the dreams of every Classics major. I fondly remember sitting with my friend Isaac in the evenings, having steamed milk with honey or almond flavoring, or taking up an outside table in the Fall with my classmate Julia after Latin, sipping lattes, chain-smoking, and not studying our verbs.
I would not even say that I am a coffee fanatic. I drink mostly tea. I do enjoy coffee. But that’s not really the point in all this. I love the pleasure of a good place to sit. I love to be able to linger over a cup of something which, it must be said, is made with care. The folks of Prufrock, Gimme Coffee, Intelligentsia and the legion of others that now populate the university towns and fashionable city districts around the world, care about coffee and here at least, they can tell you all you might want to know about their beans. To me this is all but unnecessary. There are little irritations I suppose, like their refusal to use skim milk because it’s doesn’t taste right with their beans. Balderdash, I say. But I quibble. What luck to be living in an age when people care about little things like coffee.