The real Last of the Summer Wine Cafe

The Crown Coffee House and Patisserie
4 Waterhouse St, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX1 1UQ

The Crown Coffee House, Halifax

The Crown Coffee House and Patisserie (the extended name and italics are all beautifully at one with the place – as will be detailed below) on Waterhouse Street in Halifax, West Yorkshire, is an old fashioned delight. In the days when Starbucks, Costa Coffee and their ilk are choking the world of hot beverages and a muffin like Virginia vine creeper, and even independent shops seem to have the same funky ubiquity – boutique is perhaps the compromised future of independence; boutique coffee shops, boutique bed and breakfast, boutique vinyl LPs, boutique bookshops, boutique beer, boutique children’s names, boutique relationships; all which seem to share the same studious quirkiness – the traditional homeliness of The Crown is like a breath of freshly percolated, steaming hot chocolate and newly baked bread scented, air. Now don’t get me wrong, when I say ‘old fashioned’ I don’t intend the term pejoratively; I mean old fashioned in the way that The Beatles and handshakes and Dualit toasters, Belstaff jackets, Rolls Royce, good service, good manners, quality and value for money are old fashioned. And this is not the olde worlde reproduction of the Ann Hathaway Coffee Shoppe or Ye Olde Queene Bess Tea Rooms – all lace doilies and fake antiquity (though doilies wouldn’t necessarily be out of place at The Crown). This is the old fashioned utilitarian decor of Ivy’s café from Last of the Summer Wine, which was perfectly modern and ideally fit for purpose circa 1976, and, as it’s been kept wonderfully clean (though the stairs carpet could do with a once over) and looked after, and is all still very serviceable, there is no reason to change it.

But any place – whether it’s a trendy boutique coffee house with fair trade vegan-friendly fruited bagels (it will always be bagels in these places, never tea cakes), or even the taupe soul of a Costa or a Caffè Nero – can be made or broken by the staff. And the service offered at The Crown matches the decor. Genuine politeness (as opposed to the corporate ‘have a nice day’ plastic civility delivered by glum-looking robots whose circuits are steadily smoking due to the cack-handed re-wiring job the management has insisted on inflicting on their personalities in the name of a corporate identity), a willingness to go that extra locally produced sausage to make sure customers have not just a reasonable experience but a full-cooked English one, came as a shocking surprise in this emotionally passive and strictly mercantile age, where increasingly our interactions are becoming more virtual and less personal – even when (supposedly) real people are involved. The star of the show is the lady who acted as maître d’hôtel. Sadly I didn’t ask her name, but she is marvellous, in a moderately over-bearing kind of way. Her ebullient personality and obvious love for The Crown is expressed in such a distinct and colourful manner that I’m sure Victoria Wood must have been here at some point and taken some inspiration away with her (plus a packet of butterfly buns). ‘A savoury chicken wrap? A good choice, sir,’ she complimented me as I gave my order. ‘Those are a very popular luncheon option with our gentlemen. Perhaps the most popular choice next to our extensive range of jackets…’ Before bustling off to discuss at length the digestive merits of a homemade steak and kidney pie with a couple at the next table. ‘One will do, won’t it? Yes, one will most certainly do… Now, that said, I’m sure you’ve got a little bit of room left in there somewhere… Can I tempt you to one of our delicious desserts…Ice cream…? I’ve just been up in the freezer now digging a few scoops out… Most reluctant it was and I think I may have pulled a muscle in my arm…’ she remarked, rubbing her elbow. ‘But I’m more than happy to rejoin the fight if you fancy some vanilla or perhaps our always in demand chocolate…’ Her enthusiasm (it feels almost blasphemous to use the pronoun), made me feel like I had earned her (sorry) respect by making a sensible lunching decision. In a world where most jobs seem intent on bleaching the character out of people, this lady (the harsh epithet ‘woman’ would be inappropriate somehow) should be set as an example of the triumph of personality over uniformity that all four star line-managers and desk-piloting executives ought to be forced to study, instead of lumbering us with lean processes (which usually means redundancy) and continuous improvement (which usually means quantity over quality), and other such quasi-metaphysical nothingness. The Crown’s cast of equally attentive and cheery staff who support this Dame of the All Day Breakfast are worth their weight in gingerbread men and Yorkshire Parkin – even the teenagers who work there give the impression they were fitted at the same time as the industrial milk frother and the Anaglypta wallpaper. The entire experience was as comfortable and as comforting as the past – the good, the bad and the half-forgotten – generally is. I leave it up to you to spot Victoria Wood’s ‘Mrs Overall’ as you chomp on a coconut macaroon; she is there, believe me – I saw her as I lounged back, escaping the harshness of the modern world for half an hour, and crunched into my tasty wrap.