To make my ‘writing holiday’ more like a holiday and less like I’m sitting at a computer all day caffeinating myself into a heart attack, I decided to pack up my pens and spend some time scribbling in a few of my favourite haunts in London.
For background: most days when I’m writing or editing, I hate silence. I like to pump my music up (more often than not I have a playlist for whatever part of the story I’m focusing on). I like to be in amongst the bustle of the everyday (mainly so I can people watch but also so there’s reason to roll my eyes at any tomfoolery). I also like to have wifi (is there a need to explain this?). There are exceptions so the list should hold something for the quiet ones as well as the loud ones but just thought it was worth a heads up.
Here you go: six days, six coffees for the writerly Londoner.
Day One: The Duke of Kendall, Paddington
Admittedly I’m slightly biased. The Duke might as well be my local for the amount of time I spend here and honestly it is one pub that I could write in every day and not complain. As well as serving a decent (read: strong) coffee, there’s also the potential for a long, lazy afternoon of day drinking for those writers who like to pretend at being the next Kerouac, Fitzgerald or Sexton. Plus other customers are diverse and interesting, the staff is friendly, the wifi is fast and free, for seating it has plenty of benches outside where you can watch the world go by on a sunny day and lots of cosy nooks inside for the less sunny days. It’s also often quiet enough – with the folk from Kurobuta popping in over lunch to gossip but usually picking up in tempo only after it’s five o’clock somewhere – for those who don’t like too much distraction.
Favourite day to go: Saturday – largely empty during the afternoon with live piano and singing from 8.30pm with the inestimable Gilly.
Pros:Somehow the tourists haven’t found it yet despite being a hop and half a skip from Marble Arch.
Cons: Limited plug sockets so if you’re planning a day, you might need to pop across to Pain Quotidien to charge up.
Coffee Rating: 4 / 5
Day Two: The Colonel Fawcett, Camden
The Colonel was a recommendation from Hazel, which should have told me it would be good but still took me nearly a year to come round to visiting. The haunt of the North London Writer’s Group on Monday evenings (AKA the Camden Creative Colony), this is an ideal space for some epic scribbling sessions. For those who enjoy working at a table, there’s plenty (but do book if you’re checking in for a weekend), but there are also wonderful squishy sofas for scribblers like me who prefer to nest with their computers, papers and pens. Another one with spot-on wifi, it’s spacious and surprisingly bright for a pub, and whoever has control over the sound system has great taste in tunes.
Favourite day to go: Sunday – the food on Sunday is amazing. Ah. Maze. Ing.
Pros: All the gins. They have 50 different kinds for all your Hemingway needs.
Cons: There aren’t many plug sockets (again) and if you’re here mid-afternoon on a weekday you might be the only person in the entire place.
Coffee Rating: 3.5 / 5
Day Three: Fix Coffee, Barbican / Shoreditch
Similar to the Shoreditch Grind but comfier and just overall nicer, what once felt like a hidden gem is now pretty popular with the writing crowd. For good reason though! From the warm and cosy atmosphere to the comfortable sofas and friendly staff, what’s not to like? The wifi code lasts only an hour, which is slightly irksome and kind of implies they don’t reeeeally want people to stick around, but whilst it works the connection is strong and fast. It’s really nice and bright, and it’s also really well laid out for different types of workers. Good amount of places to plug in too so overall, a decent, laid back writing space with really really good coffee.
Favourite day to go: Monday or Wednesday. Great for ‘humpday’ writing. Also anyday when they have banana bread.
Pros: Coffee served with a sense of humour.
Cons: ‘Gourmet coffee’ literally makes no sense and also makes you feel like you live in Instagram.
Coffee Rating: 4.5 / 5
Day Four: The Collection, Amersham
Tucked away at the end of a quaint wee street in Amersham, The Collection is a little shop selling everything from jewellery and flowers to paintings and cooking utensils. At the back, however, is one mean coffee machine. There’s only two long tables so you might have to share, and there’s no wifi (as far as I know) but it’s good if you want to take a break, eat some great cake, and perhaps walk through the pepperpot highstreet. If you’re a bit adventurous and have an oyster card that stretches further than Zone 4, then this little haven is for you.
Favourite day to go: Weekdays are better than weekends because you can sit at the tables with far less interruption.
Pros: Everyone here is exceptionally friendly.
Cons: It is Zone 9… and also I think the iPod in there delights in playing the most obscure selection of music possible.
Coffee Rating: 3.5 / 5
Day Five: The British Library, Kings Cross
Beloved by all, the BL is somewhere I first started frequenting during my undergraduate dissertation on Milton. The reading rooms are silent, the cafes are buzzing, there are hundreds of fascinating people all around you and exhibitions to explore when you hit a wall – it’s brilliant. There are amazing spaces everywhere, though it can become crowded so I’d recommend arriving early (or at least at non-rush hour times) if you want to bagsie your spot.
Favourite day to go: Any day that contains a Y. Also any day where research is necessary.
Pros: For bookish hearts the BL is literally heaven.
Cons: Overpriced food. Wifi has always been a bit sketchy in my opinion, and if you want to use the reading rooms you need a card (for which there is the whole rigmarole of applying, bringing passport photos etc) and ALSO have to take everything in using a transparent plastic bag just in case you wanted to sneak a pen in – god forbid!
Coffee Rating: 3 / 5
Day Six: Look Mum No Hands, Old Street
I’ve put LMNH in, but it could easily be swapped for a bunch of other similar spaces in and around east London, including the brilliant Timber Yard. However, LMNH definitely deserves a little more attention simply for its ability to blend a coffee shop with a bicycle workshop without seeming contrived. What I love about this place is the fact that despite days when it’s crazy busy – if you’ve nabbed a table there’s no pressure to move out. The food is amazing too, which if you’re settling in for a long one is an absolute must, especially if – like most of the customers – you’re a cyclist as well. One absolute travesty is the site on Mare Street, Hackney, is being closed – not by choice – but because the landlords have decided on a 400% price hike. Let’s hope nothing similar happens to their space in Old Street!
Favourite day to go: Weekday afternoons are good in my experience – but it’s definitely not a ‘go everyday’ kinda place.
Pros: Prime people watching space – it’s full of quirky characters and curious conversations.
Cons: Busy. Very busy sometimes. All hipsters.