The Ace Cafe is synonymous with rockers and cafe racers, and is arguably the birthplace of both.
The Ace Cafe was built in 1938 as a roadside cafe to cater to travelers on the newly-built North Circular Road. Since it was open 24 hours and also close to the new arterial network where speed limits were higher, it quickly started attracting motorcyclists. In 1939, the owner expanded the cafe to include a service station, 10 gas pumps, a washing bay, a showroom, and a repair shop. The building was destroyed, and 10 years later rebuilt.
Following World War II, road traffic was up, the teenager phenomena created, and the British motorcycle industry was at its peak. The perfect situation for the Ace Cafe, neatly situated on one of the country’s major highways.
Rock ‘n roll wasn’t played on the radio in those days, and could only be listened to on jukeboxes or at live performances. Since the Ace Cafe was always playing rock ‘n roll, it brought in many of the younger motorcyclists who were heavily influenced by the rock ‘n roll culture. Multiple successful rock bands were also formed among the patrons sitting at the tables eating greasy spoon food, listening to the jukebox, and watching the motorcyclists wrench on their bikes in the parking lot.
The Ace, as it came to be known, was booming. It was the place to meet, eat, have a cuppa, arrange runs from cafe to cafe or to the coast, or simply work on your bike. It was a home for the Ton Up Boys, and the cultural epicenter for cafe racers. It was also where Reverend Bill Shergold, the head of the legendary Fifty Nine Club, the largest motorcycle club in the world at the time, often brought his crew.
Over the next decade, society and culture shifted in a way that hurt the Ace. Motorcycles became more expensive, cars were cheaper, and the expansion of the local motorways caused the Ace’s patronage to wane, and eventually forced it to close its doors in 1969.
But in 1994, motorcycle historian Mark Wilsmore organized the first Ace Cafe Reunion with The Fifty Nine Club. The reunion attracted more than 12,000 visitors, and was so successful that in 1997, the Ace Cafe was reopened.