Why are there so few coffee shops in SE1?

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Tuesday 14 May 2013 6.05am
Over the past few years, a minor revolution has taken place in London in the form of literally dozens of new coffee shops opening across the capital. Our city, once dismissed as a place you could get anything and everything apart from a decent cup of coffee, now rivals cities like Seattle and Melbourne for excellent coffee shops.

A look at the map on the London Coffee Guide website illustrates the sheer density of coffee-drinking options. I run one myself, in Hackney, and the amount of competition is staggering. Almost the entire borough is peppered with recent openings.

So why is Southwark, and SE1 in particular, missing out? There are a few take-away-only places and coffee carts, as well as gems like Scooterworks on The Cut, but overall the offer is mainly lots of chains. Lovely that we have Monmouth, but good luck getting a seat. Alternatives are thin on the ground. Why?
Tuesday 14 May 2013 6.59am
SoBo on Tower Bridge Road serve excellent coffee and it is a lovely place to be. A real local coffee shop.
Tuesday 14 May 2013 7.07am
I think it's down to lack of original interiors. I've always envied the quirky premises in and around Hackney/Shoreditch; converted from old houses in the main you'll be hard pushed to find that level of atmosphere in and around my area on Southwark St. Sadly, the young couple that were making an effort in the art studios complex at the NCP site moved on because they couldn't agree a lease and now they sit in Shoreditch awaiting planning permission to open a new venture there. They still have my record player and cheesy easy listening collection so I'd say worth a visit when they do finally open.

There was vague talk of Allies and Morrison turning over the ground floor of their new site opposite Citizen M to a coffee venture, but suspect that has faded away now. Even so, it's part of a hideous sixties office development so not much hope of a buzzy, peeling paint, squeeky floorboards kind of a joint I'm afraid. I just think the architecture is wrong in this area of SE1 at least, which is a real shame.
Tuesday 14 May 2013 8.24am
For my tastes, there are already too many opportunities to buy coffee. I wouldn't get excited about any additional ones.

...if you press it, they will come.
Tuesday 14 May 2013 9.38am
Well yes there is that issue as well, but I still think there's room for something more than just a coffee outlet. Something with a cultural edge could and should thrive, Scooterworks being a prime example.
Tuesday 14 May 2013 12.07pm
Woolfson and Tay have recently relocated their bookshop and lovely cafe to Bear Lane, near the junction with Dolben Street and Great Suffolk Street. It is worth a drop in for both books and refreshment - and it is an independent shop in the neighbourhood!
Tuesday 14 May 2013 12.51pm
Not sure if this is meant to open up a discussion on good coffee shops in SE1, but I thought I'd mention a few :)

Bermondsey Cafe on lovely little Bermondsey St. (plus so many other authentic, non-chain places to go)

Recently I've discovered the joy of the flat white at Riva, directly right of Borough tube when you walk out (they've just refurbished the inside so it's much nicer now)
Tuesday 14 May 2013 1.16pm
Sobo is an interesting case. I believe it opened in 2003/4 and as such predates the vast majority of the coffee shops in a borough such as Hackney. When Sobo opened, there were actually relatively few such establishments in London. There was a strong emphasis not just on the standard of coffee but on design, too.

Since the change of ownership a few years ago, the service has got a lot friendlier, the coffee has stayed about the same - and in the past few years, standards in London have risen so much that Sobo's coffee can only be considered competent now, rather than excellent - while the food has become fairly standard caff food. It's quite conspicuously not of the so-called 'third wave' of coffee shops marching across London.

I don't necessarily believe you need historic or warehousey properties for characterful coffee shops to proliferate, although it helps. However, you do need affordable rents, so perhaps that's why SE1 seems to lack them.
Tuesday 14 May 2013 2.14pm
totally agree that the standard of coffee "shops"/cafes in SE1 is well below that of trendier areas such as Hoxton, Shoreditch or Hackney. Not quite sure why though. Maybe we aren't as gentrified as we think? I will avoid Costabucks at all costs but where are the alternatives?
Tuesday 14 May 2013 4.03pm
Bel Ludovic wrote:
Sobo is an interesting case. I believe it opened in 2003/4 and as such predates the vast majority of the coffee shops in a borough such as Hackney. When Sobo opened, there were actually relatively few such establishments in London. There was a strong emphasis not just on the standard of coffee but on design, too.
Since the change of ownership a few years ago, the service has got a lot friendlier, the coffee has stayed about the same - and in the past few years, standards in London have risen so much that Sobo's coffee can only be considered competent now, rather than excellent - while the food has become fairly standard caff food. It's quite conspicuously not of the so-called 'third wave' of coffee shops marching across London.

I don't necessarily believe you need historic or warehousey properties for characterful coffee shops to proliferate, although it helps. However, you do need affordable rents, so perhaps that's why SE1 seems to lack them.

You are spot on, Bel Ludovic, SoBo is not in the premier league or 'third wave' of coffee shops. But then, they don't pretend to be either. And that is what I love about them. I have breakfast in SoBo twice or three times a week and the food is above caff food quality. (I must admit that I am actually a bit of a fraud, because I don't often drink coffee)
I appreciate everything according to its pretense and therefore rate SoBo highly.
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