Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Year of Eating Differently (117): 12-Bar Cafe, Denmark Street

Like a step back in time to the 1980s, or indeed some indefinable era before I was fully conscious. This may be to do with the terrible cold air today, or the NME obituaries of Marc Bolan, Sid Vicious1 and Kurt Cobain that decorate the walls.
However, this morbid atmosphere is alleviated somewhat by the cheerful reggae that keeps plonking away, although that too adds to the sense of this being a cafe before time. The plastic coated menu, the plastic table cloth, they too seem like something very old - not necessarily aware in some awful ironic sense of its retro status, but just a bit old, possibly a little tired.
When my burger (my reggae burger no less, complete with cheese, pineapple and chillis) arrives, it is in an old school bun, with no sesame seeds on top. That is how in the 1980s we would know we had something English, a little tired, the quintessence of the Old Country rather than the brash competence of McDonald'. But I go on too much. The chips and the 'salad' (tomato, one slice, cucumber, one slice, lettuce, one leaf) are somehow moribund, but in keeping with the burger, which is bland and yet with a hidden sting to it. Just as I thought to myself that the chillis were unnoticeable, my mouth began to quiver. But of course, in the 1980s we didn't eat spicy food (apart from chicken tikka masala, one supposes, but never in my childhood experience - I had mashed potato, carrots and peas and that was as far as it went), so in a few moments the burning sensation vanishes again.
So far, this sounds a little derogatory, but this is one of those few places that provides a simple oasis from the world for a moment or two. You could imagine that mobile phones, the internet, the very word (or words) 'dot-com' had yet to materialise into our daily lives. And that, perhaps, is what a meal should provide in the middle of the day.2
1 Is it just a terrible rock legend, or did Sid's mother really drop his urn as she carried him back home from New York, with the dire consequences that his ashes were sucked up into the air conditioning systems of Heathrow, never to rest? Surely seems too awful an end not to be true...
2 In writing this, I may have been unduly influenced by reading Starbucked which raised (for me, for the first time) the concept of the third place, as possibly invented by Ray Oldenburg and then promulgated by Schulz and Starbucks et al, of cafes/bars/etc providing some adjunct to the humdrum experience of sleep-work-home-sleep by being an alternative to exist in. Or maybe I had just been time tunnelling...


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