RFA takes legendary Ace Café on the road


RFA is designing and building a touring exhibition that will celebrate rocker culture and the story of bikers who frequented the Ace Café in north London in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Ace Café was located on the North Circular Road near Wembley, but closed in 1969. The building was used as a tyre garage before it was reopened as a café in 2001 by Mark Wilsmore, who initiated the exhibition Coming of Age at the café.

RFA has come through a competitive pitch to be appointed by the Coventry Transport Museum, which will be the first institution to host the exhibition when it opens on 2 June.

A full concept has been worked up combining features from the café as it was, with atmospheric interventions and interaction points.

On approach visitors will see a dimming of lights to evoke dusk, when most bikers would meet to race ’coinciding with a change in shift at the local police station’, according to RFA creative director Richard Fowler.

A low concrete wall will lead on to a forecourt revealing the building’s Modernist facade and rows of bikes from the period. Visitors will enter a soundscape and lighting recalling the ’theatre’ outside the café, says Fowler. Inside, synthesised café smells will fill the air and table tops will present interactive audio-visual displays based on different biker culture pillars, including fashion and music.

’There’ll also be low-tech stuff. We want people to be able to touch things and try stuff on,’ says Fowler.

A counter will be adapted to encase bikes from the period, possibly including a Triumph Bonneville and BSA Goldstar.

Around the back of the counter a cinema space will be created, where live music and storytelling events can be accommodated as well as films. This will be supported by spot lighting of motorbikes from the time.

The design has been assigned a £50 000 budget and is modular so it can be dismantled, fitted into a container and transported.

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