Thursday, 22 July 2010

La bohème

Today I met up with a new friend I met last Sunday before in church. Having arrived too late for the first service but too early for the next I was left wondering the hall like a little lost soul. I was rescued from sitting in a corner alone pretending I didn't mind by this wonderful person, and somehow carried out a whole conversation whilst being half asleep on my part. Anyway we decided to meet up during the week, and I was struggling to think of a cafe to dawdle the afternoon away that wasn't a Costa or Starbucks. Whilst thinking out loud my colleague at work casually suggested the Art House Cafe situated at Above Bar Street just on the outskirts of the city centre. "What a fantastic idea!" I thought, it has been too long since I gave the place a visit- and I had forgotten what a hidden treasure it is.

The Service Counter

Southampton isn't known for much sadly, and the council have chosen to promote it for it's less than stellar shopping districts and have chosen to strangle art and culture out of it under the guise of the credit crunch. Small businesses have struggled including my lovely cinema Harbour Lights after the announcement that £25,000 was being retracted from out funds. Fortunately the powers that be have decided to keep us open for now and I have faith we will survive in the long run despite the Council's best efforts to screw us over.

Beautiful layout with the option to sit in the window
Going back to my visit though and the rediscovery of the amazingness of The Art House Cafe, I am surprised I don't go there more often.  Then again I am rarely in Southampton so this might explain some things.  Upon entering the cafe, the first impression is of a homey lounge decorated liberally with books, original paintings for sale and Edwardian type chairs and decor.  Everything is beautifully mismatched yet in harmony and even the window display box contains a table and chairs to make a sunny area to enjoy afternoon tea in, ideally located so that the tea (or coffee) drinker may admire the latest work of art created by local artists.  Currently on display is a giant blue spotty teacup sporting a vintage swimsuit draped across its rims and plates of teatime cakes such as angel cakes made from washing up sponges.  Sadly I didn't think to take my mobile out again to snap it up, maybe next time!  My friend and I snabbed a wooden table with elegant high backed chairs and I went up to the service counter to examine the selection.  After much kerfuffle with the drinks selection I chose tea and a scrumptious apricot ginger cake for myself and a pear juice served in a colourful plastic tumbler and chocolate cake for my friend whose order I took from across the not so large space.

My wonderful tea

The service was wonderful as tea was brought out to us at our table.  Here laid another pleasant surprise as the mismatched quirky china were placed out.  My teapot was a black cat! Novel but somehow fitting for such a creative place.  I get the impression they like their cats as lying next to our menu holder (cutely proclaiming "run for love not for profit") was another china cat which turned out to be a quaint sugar pot.  We spent the afternoon there easily enjoying out organic treats, and my teapot I must say gave me plenty of entertainment much to my new friend's amusement I'm sure.  This cafe adopts the view of being green and ethical which I support so strive only to sell organic and fairly traded vegetarian and vegan products.  More importantly, it supports the importance of a good slice of cake and I must say, my slice was delicious in a homey way stuffed with fruit and moist. 


In case you're wondering what the slogan "run for love not profit" means, the Art House Cafe is run purely by volunteers to enable a creative space for artists and cultural people to come to and host multi-diciplinary art events.  The Cafe supports the local community by promoting sustainability, culture and local events as well as non-political environmental groups.  Places like this seem rare these days and I truly think this is a hidden gem, and deserves more attention than it gets.  So if you're ever in need of a quiet place to think, or just need tea this is the place to be.  The prices are cheap and cheerful, the atmosphere relaxed and even the customers are a joy to look at as they flounce in with flowers and wreaths in their hair, closing the door as if to their own home when the street work outside got too noisy. 

Apricot ginger cake in front of the menu holder and sugar cat
Today was fantastic and to top it all off I went to my own cinema home in the evening to watch Inception with some old friends and I have to say this film lives up to the hype.  The film challenged morality, stretched your brain as it tried to take in what the characters were saying and had a sweet plot to boot.  At the bar whilst waiting to drift upstairs to the screen, I saw the group of Art House customers who were in the cafe earlier on buying drinks which brought a smile to my face- so that's where they trundle to when the cafe closes at 5:00!  All in all a fun-filled day I can't wait to repeat!

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