This is a piece about making arrangements to meet people. It contains simple advice to minimize the amount of time you or your friends spend outside in the cold and rain waiting for people to turn up.
Many years ago my wife was arranging to meet a friend in town a few days later. Her friend suggested meeting “beside the statue of Eros on Piccadilly Circus”. This is the kind of arrangement I have been advising against for decades. If it’s raining at least one of you will get wet.
Always meet somewhere covered, never out in the open. Also, arrange to meet somewhere you can sit down. Do everything you can to minimize the risk of standing around outside. This might seem like obvious advice, but there are many adults out there who have not worked it out yet.
I learnt these lessons from bitter experience. In the mid-1980s a typical meeting place, when making arrangements with friends, would be “outside HMV on Oxford Street”, beside Bond Street station. (HMV is back there now, though the store was a Foot Locker for many years.) The last time I made such an arrangement I waited 40 minutes for my friend to show up.
Worse than this, and also in the 1980s, a friend arranged to meet for lunch in town. He suggested we meet “outside that church on the Strand”, near Fleet Street (St Clement Dane’s, I discovered when I arrived). I then spent 40 minutes outside it, on a weekday in February, before heading back to work with a sandwich. He had a meeting which overran and couldn’t make it. This was before we had mobile phones so there was no way he could rearrange things.
Since that experience I have explained to all of my friends that I refuse to meet outside places, but some people don’t listen. Some years ago, planning to go to a gig somewhere in Shoreditch, I was playing telephone-tag with my then gig-going companion, leaving messages throughout Saturday evening about where to meet. He was getting progressively more drunk and his final message included the information that his phone was about to run out of battery, so he wouldn’t be able to hear any more voicemails, or read his texts, and “Meet outside Liverpool Street station at 9.30, okay?” I was fuming all the way there, and fuming for the 15 minutes I was waiting outside Liverpool Street station, in the rain, on a Saturday night, surrounded by football fans heading back east and north, clubbers heading west, and by policemen with dogs. It was the only time that I’ve seen the police do something that I’d previously heard about but never witnessed: they forced people to line up before allowing them into the station and set the dogs sniffing at their clothes, checking for drugs.
And sometimes circumstances scupper even your most carefully-made plans. Last month I arranged to meet a friend at the 12 Bar Club on Holloway Road. It had been open three days earlier but was closed down that very day so I stood outside, on a cold February evening, waiting for him to arrive.
Over the years I have found plenty of suitable places to arrange to meet, here in West London and in central London: coffee shops, pubs, cafes in bookshops, cinema bars. All of them (even the pubs) are suitable for lone women and lone men waiting for other people to turn up, unless you have a very strong aversion to being in a pub on your own.
I’ll share my knowledge of central London with you. All information is correct as of March 2016.
There are so many coffee shops in London these days that you have to be very specific about the one you mean. “The Caffe Nero on Piccadilly” isn’t specific enough. There are at least three. My preferred meeting place over the years has been the Caffe Nero on the corner of Piccadilly and Dover Street. It’s a reasonable size, has plenty of seating outside for any of you who still smoke, and it’s near Green Park station. It’s also a good place to park (if you’re driving): those streets around Green Park are usually a safer bet than anywhere near Piccadilly Circus.
The Porcupine, on Charing Cross Road, beside Leicester Square station, is usually a good option. In the early evening most of the clientele are theatre-goers or people having a drink after work, so if you’re waiting for people to turn up you shouldn’t feel too out of place. It’s also as close to a central London tube station as a pub can be.
[Update, January 2017: This bar is currently closed so the following paragraph is no longer relevant. I have written about other pubs called the Blue Posts here.] The Blue Posts on Rupert Street: this gem of a bar has hardly changed since I first found it in the 1980s. Back then it was one of the few pubs that served coffee. I chanced upon it one Saturday afternoon, having arrived early in town for a film screening. It was quiet, most people were there on their own, reading and drinking coffee. It gets livelier at night, and there’s an upstairs bar. If it’s not booked for a function the upstairs bar one of the few places you can get a seat, even on the busiest nights in town. There are other bars called The Blue Posts (including one in Albermarle Street behind the Ritz, and one on Broadwick Street in Soho) but this is the one I recommend for meeting. It’s in between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square stations, at the edge of the Trocadero complex, halfway up Rupert Street on the corner of Rupert Court.
The Toucan Bar, Carlisle Street (very near Soho Square): this is a Guinness bar, serving excellent Guinness (at nearly 5 pounds a pint) and Tayto crisps. Carlisle Street is a small street that runs from the West side of Soho Square to Dean Street. The ground floor bar is small, but there’s a bigger bar downstairs where I have usually managed to get a seat, either straight after work or later in the evening.
Cafés in bookshops
Waterstone’s, 203-206 Piccadilly (near Piccadilly Circus station) has a spacious coffee shop on the 5th floor, at least I think of it as a coffee shop but their website calls it a Bar and Restaurant. This has worked well for meeting friends with children – there are lifts to get you to the 5th floor.
Foyle’s, Charing Cross Road: the bookshop has moved from its original location, to 107 Charing Cross Road, just down the road (this caught me out the first time I was looking for it). There’s a café on the 4th or 5th floor; every time I have been there it has been busier than the Waterstone’s café on Piccadilly.
For many years we would arrange to meet friends at the Curzon Soho, on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Frith Street. It used to have a creperie, and they served Hoegaarden on draught. I haven’t used it for a few years now but it’s still there, and the Google Maps entry describes it as a “Late-night artisan baker and snack café”. (Next time I’m in town I’ll check it out and confirm that it’s still suitable.)