Opened on London’s North Circular Road in 1938 as an ultra-modern pull-in and refreshment stop for lorry drivers, the Ace Cafe was an immediate success, serving 2000 customers in its first week.
The rapid postwar residential and industrial development resulted in many motorcyclists in the area. Relishing their new found freedom, the Ace was a Mecca for young motorcyclists where their leather jackets and oily, noisy machines were no bar to admittance. The Ace Cafe was destined to achieve fame in the 1950s, not for delicious fare and slick service but as a latter-day Dodge City where the cowboys rode motorbikes instead of horses.
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Open all hours, the Ace was brightly lit and filled with rock ’n’ roll jukebox sounds. Frequented by the capital’s night birds: truck drivers, musicians and underworld characters, it was also a hangout for spirited young motorcyclists. They fettled their noisy machines on the forecourt, tore off on 100mph burn-ups, played games of dare and raced each other, to the horror of Mr and Mrs Suburbia and the authorities.
Having seen the demise of the spivs and the teddy boys, the ‘Coffee Bar Cowboys’ (as the older generation of riders called them), were ideal subjects for a sensation-seeking tabloid press that gave motorcyclists a bad name for many years. Contributors to the great social upheaval of the 1950s, leather-jacketed ton-up kids became a nationwide phenomenon, paving the way for the rockers and their cafe racer bikes of the 1960s.
The Ace’s closure in 1969 was coincidental with dispersal of the rocker generation and the imminent demise of the British motorcycle industry.
Road racing champions and former works riders Dave Croxford and Ray Pickrell were both Ace customers, along with endurance racer Ron Wittich whose wife Jenny used to ride a BSA Gold Star.
In this rich tapestry of a book, author Mick Duckworth chronicles Ace Cafe history since 1938, mainly through the first-hand recollection of customers past and present. He also evokes many facets of carefree times: other fondly remembered motorcyclists’ cafes (The Busy Bee, The Caprice and The Salt Box), Mods and Rockers, Teddy Boys, rock ’n’ roll and much more.
Book facts: ‘Ace Times’ Speed thrills and tea spills, a cafe and a culture by Mick Duckworth, foreword by Dave Croxford. Designed and published by Redline Books, Marketed by the Ace Cafe London ace-cafe-london.com Tel: 020 89611000 Hardback, 260 x 290mm, 311 pages, with over 400 photographs and illustrations. ISBN 978-0-9555278-6-9 Cost: £29.95