Sometimes a quick pitstop is all you need, and London is eternally well-equipped for those. But what about the occasions you have work to focus on, or time to kill, and home just isn’t an option? There’s a lot of chat about ‘coffices’ being the future of urban working, but not every café is up to the job of being your lounge, study and boardroom rolled into one.
So forgo Starbucks and settle in for the afternoon somewhere a little more inspiring, where you won’t feel guilted into buying five lattes as rent on your table. From quiet and studious to arty boltholes, here are some of the capital’s best places to linger for longer…
Like most normal neurotic people, I’m wary of ‘concepts’. Will I get it? Will I do something wrong? Will people point and laugh and chase me out of east London with sticks? So naturally on hearing about Ziferblat, the ‘social co-working freespace’ where you pay per minute, not per coffee, my immediate thought was ‘oh God’.
But once you’ve found the mysterious blue door on Old Street and been buzzed up (I took several attempts, feeling a bit like something in a Nancy Drew mystery), everything is straightforward and cheerfully explained. Take a clock, write your time of arrival down on a paper slip, and use the space for anything you fancy.
All mismatched chairs, vintage lamps and old Beano annuals (see above), the room looks like the awesome student flat you never had – and will probably be far more productive in. There’s a kitchen where you can help yourself to free tea and coffee, plenty of plug sockets, board games and even a piano (which could prove magical or grating depending on how much you like the Amelie soundtrack). Time costs 5p per minute and there’s no minimum stay.
If you’re not too sensitive to noise or distractions, Ziferblat is a thoroughly charming place to set up camp and play games, meet friends or get some work done. Of course, when you’re paying by the minute, lingering is positively encouraged (even the wi-fi password is ‘takeyourtime’). But it works the other way round too; nothing stops you procrastinating faster than knowing your progress is on the clock.
And while £3 an hour definitely isn’t as cheap as nursing a single latte over a whole afternoon, the collaborative, Euro-hip feel of Ziferblat is one you’d be hard pressed to find in a chain outlet.
The British Library
If you want to feel earnest and academic while whiling away some time, there are few places in London as good as The British Library.
It’s also one of the best smelling, with the scent of Peyton and Byrne coffee and pastries wafting through the building’s cavernous, multi-storey foyer space. Said refreshments are undeniably overpriced (‘sorry, what’s that? Did you drop a diamond in my salad?’), but for dreamy, studious atmosphere and architectural gravitas, the BL can’t be beat.
Visitors who need to access certain books or materials can register for a Reader Pass and use the (strictly policed) reading rooms, but there are plenty of tables and seats in the public areas for more casual dwellers too. The ultimate prize is one of the first floor leather armchairs with laptop rest and personal plug sockets, for which I am informed you have to get up at the crack of dawn and perform some sort of ritual dance. If you snag one, never let it go. Not even to pee. They are gold dust.
Paying your way in coffee isn’t for everyone, particularly if (like me) you’ve got a low caffeine tolerance and a whole heap of time to kill. Step in Yumchaa, tea emporium and beloved second living room for many a London layabout.
Originating in Camden market, the company now has four pretty outlets across Camden, Fitzrovia and Soho. Low-key and serene, the whitewashed walls and battered antique furniture make for an atmosphere that, like the refreshments, are mellow rather than buzzing.
Before ordering, you’re encouraged to choose your beverage by sniffing the fragrant range of black, green, white and fruit loose-leaf (with names like ‘Regents Park’ and ‘Mango Sunrise’), displayed in little jugs on the counter. There are doorstep sandwiches and slabs of brownie for your hunger pangs, and cheery staff don’t seem to care if you linger there for hours. Which, when you have a full teapot and an empty diary, is just as well.
The Southbank Centre
Ah, the Southbank. One of the most reliable sources of those ‘wow, I live in LONDON’ moments – as long as you’re adept at side-stepping tourists and issuing the odd sharp elbow.
Sure, the stretch of the river between the Hungerford and Blackfriars bridges is always heaving with treacle-slow crowds on a
sunny weekend, but don’t let that put you off; the area also offers an inspiring choice of spots to snatch time to yourself.
Cosy up in the surprisingly good bar at the BFI Southbank for some culture by osmosis, or head to the Royal Festival Hall, where you’ll find five floors of bars, balconies and annexes with ample seating – all peaceful during weekdays, save for the quiet tip-tap of laptops and muttered meetings about (I like to imagine) future BAFTA or Olivier-winning scripts.
The concrete hunk of a building isn’t much to look at, but what does that matter when you’ve got a riverside view?
I seriously considered not including this one, because it is my personal favourite and if the secret gets out then I might not be able to find a seat anymore.
Tucked away behind Finsbury Park station, the Park Theatre has been gathering admirers since it opened last May – for its handsome architecture as much as its programme of critically-acclaimed plays. The café bar occupies three levels at the front of the building and it’s gorgeous, with bare brick walls, eclectic furniture and hanging lightbulbs to rival any smug coffee joint.
But unlike most smug coffee joints it’s wonderfully quiet in the daytime, with an abundance of plug sockets and reliable wi-fi. In fact it’s generally quiet anytime except the matinee and evening intervals, when the well-heeled north London audience spill out and make for 15 minutes of excellent people-watching.
It’s a great spot for people-listening too – attracting the sort of breezy theatrical types who are free to discuss their latest projects over wine at 4pm on a Tuesday, I’ve done some of my greatest ever eavesdropping here and spotted a few hang-on-are-they-famous faces too (have IMDB to hand on your phone).
On top of that, they do a mighty good scone. But don’t all rush at once, ok?