The café around the corner is a modest little place; nothing fancy, it’s unfussy and unpretentious. Food comes good and cheap and conversations, like the steaming coffees, flow with an effortless ease.
In London these cafés are called ‘greasy spoons’ because their main fare is the English Breakfast which is unapologetically fried – everything from from eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast and even slivers of congealed pigs blood, called black pudding.
But looks can be deceiving because this modest little cafe hides a proud past: the Norwegian pop band A-ha shot their iconic music video ‘Take on Me’ here: for those who remember, it’s an enchanting story-line of a woman who reads a comic book in a café when beckoning hand suddenly invites her in to the comic, where her adventures, escaping baddies in biker gear with Morten Harket, begin.
Anyone over the age of 40 who grew up close to a TV would remember how ground -breaking that 1984 video was because it involved ‘rotoscoping’ where motion picture footage is traced over frame by frame with a pencil. The ‘Take on Me’ music video took 4 months to sketch its 4,000 drawings and the end result – for anyone who saw it – was gobsmacking.
As teenagers we taped it on VHS, we marveled at it, rewound it and re-watched it again and again till the tape went fuzzy, till we knew its irresistible words and tried to play its catchy, pop-synth riffs on dad’s Casio.
The cafe is bright today with its high windows and magnolia tiles. There’s a cross section of local life; someone choosing horses in the sports pages; an older couple sit opposite each other just sipping tea, perhaps 60 years together has exhausted their conversation. A bespectacled hipster on his own checking his phones with elbows on the table showing off his flowery tattooed arms.
A builder in paint splattered cargo trousers looks up at the chalkboard menu of breakfasts (traditional, brunch, early starter, ‘full house’ and ‘the works’), burgers and orange juice served in pint bottles with gold foil tops. He pulls out a fiver and orders a jacket potato.
You can just tell the people are regulars; it’s in the way the lady behind the till asks them, ‘how’s your mum doing?’, and the slightly more intense eye contact, the knowing giggles and the way people return their plates and cutlery to the counter to help out the two person operation.
Mind you, the place can be fancy and serves lattes, flat whites, cappuccinos, mocha macchiatos at half the price of the chains in close-by Clapham Old Town.
It’s all changed since the days of the A-ha video the owner tells me. Only the fans are the same. And that’s both the ceiling fans and the ones that come in occasionally.
When she first bought the cafe 10 years ago she’d notice people, largely middle-aged women, sitting at the same table in the corner to take photos of their hands coming out of comic books. And when she asked them why, they simply replied, “A-ha.” which, if you don’t know it’s a band (and in Cyprus where the owner comes from they didn’t really take off), is more of an exclamatio of affirmation rather than an answer.
If the café could speak what would it say? Would it boast or just keep quiet and smile with an unobtrusive modesty. There’s not a plaque or photo on the wall to remind anyone of its former glory. It just has a comfortable vibes here and that is reward enough.
– The Savoy Cafe is next to Wandsworth Road station in London and is closed on Sundays.
– Morten Harket does not appear through comic books read from the table in the corner.