The Blowjob Cafe And The Story Of London's Strangest Coffeehouses

By Dr Matthew Green Last edited 22 months ago

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The Blowjob Cafe And The Story Of London's Strangest Coffeehouses
A contemporary illustration of a London coffeehouse, c. 1705.

Eyebrows were raised in London when Geneva businessman Bradley Charvet announced plans to open a fellatio café in Paddington. The premise was simple: customers drink their coffee while receiving a blow job from an escort they’ve pre-selected from an iPad screen.

Rather unimaginatively, it would cater exclusively for heterosexual men, seating up to 100 in Baroque-themed splendour. It seems the blow jobs will be delivered beneath communal tables with some private booths for “shy guys”. Prices ‘start at’ £50, with a £10 top-up fee for experiences lasting over 15 minutes (it’s long been claimed that coffee boosts sexual performance).  

Fellatio Café was refused permission to open by Westminster Council. However, it wasn't the first such idea; in fact it joins a very long line of bizarre coffee shops in the capital — a tradition we should be proud of, however distasteful we might find this latest potential addition.

London’s first coffeehouse (or rather coffee shack) was opened in Cornhill in 1652 and within a decade, more than 80 coffeehouses had sprouted all over the city, rising to as many 2,000-3,000 by 1700.

From the outset, they were famed for their lively conviviality, equanimous debate and, much unlike today’s identikit coffee chains, their kaleidoscopic diversity. Each one was coloured by its location within the metropolis.

The walls of Don Saltero’s Chelsea coffeehouse were festooned with taxidermy monsters including crocodiles, turtles and rattlesnakes. Local gentlemen scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Hans Sloane liked to discuss the decorative pieces over coffee.

The Hoxton Square coffeehouse held ‘inquisitions of insanity’, where suspected madmen were tied up, wheeled into the coffee room, and interrogated by the customers, who decided whether they were really mad or not.

Once the entrance to a medieval priory, St John's Gate in Clerkenwell was the site of the short-lived Latin Coffeehouse.

At John Hogarth’s Latin Coffeehouse in St John’s Gate — a bare, battlemented structure in Clerkenwell that survives to this day — patrons were encouraged to converse in Latin at all times. It was a short-lived venture.

At Lunt’s on Clerkenwell Green, patrons could sip coffee, have a haircut and enjoy a fiery lecture on the abolition of slavery given by its (apparently multi-talented) barber-proprietor, John Gale Jones.

There was even a floating coffeehouse moored outside Somerset House, known as the Folly of the Thames.  

Charvet might like to take note of Moll King’s coffee shed in Covent Garden. Here, lords and libertines could sober up after a night on the town, peruse a directory of prostitutes, and be led to the requisite brothel nearby.  

In Hogarth’s The Four Times of Day (1736), Moll’s appears as a den of iniquity, with libertines, lords, bawds, whores and pugnacious n’er-do-wells oozing into the piazza like a contagion to the horror of churchgoers.

Moll took a cunning approach, fleecing her customers and cleverly avoiding prosecution by ensuring no beds were installed on site, meaning it was not technically a brothel. Fellatio Café may run on a similar principle — in Britain although prostitution isn’t illegal, running a brothel is.   

As a dynamic social and cultural force the coffeehouse died out in the mid-19th century, only to be reborn in the rock ‘n roll espresso bars of 1950s Soho. There was no shortage of colourful haunts there, either.

The weirdest was Le Macabre, on Meard Street. Inside this ‘cobweb-festooned house of horrors’, customers sat on coffins, dropped ash into candlelit skulls, and listened to funereal music on the jukebox. Its motto? Your coffee on a coffin.  

A 1950s postcard advertising Le Macabre Coffeehouse in Soho.

Quirky coffee shops can still be found in London today. One of the best ways of finding them is via the London’s Best Coffee App. There is a cat café in Bethnal Green; a board-game coffee house in Haggerston, and of course Cereal Killer in Brick Lane and Camden Town.

At the church of St Mary Aldermary, off Cannon Street, you can have a moccha beneath the Messiah in a pop-up coffeehouse in the nave. It must be the most spacious coffeehouse in London, not to mention the most spiritual. It works surprisingly well.

Host Café inside the nave of St Mary Aldermary, Watling Street.

None of these would have surprised anyone from the 18th century. But the prospect of an orgasmic cup coffee at Fellatio Café would have had even as louche and rambunctious a breed as the Georgians choking on their bitter Muhammedan gruel.

Historian Dr Matthew Green leads an immersive whirlwind tour of London's original coffeehouses each month. The next Coffeehouse Tour is this Saturday at 11.30am in the City.

Last Updated 18 October 2016