Callegari’s facade is a faded, faint echo of the days when independent, family run coffee and sandwich bars proliferated in London, run mainly by Greek or Italian first and second-generation families. I first came across it in the 1980s, situated close to another eatery, Frank’s cafe. Whilst Frank’s, also Italian run, promoted ‘full English’,
Callegari’s advertised ‘spaghetti bolognaise’. On account of their proximity to the station there was room for each to make a living. Both frontages remain and Frank’s cafe is still trading at the time of writing.
During the eighties and early nineties there were very few city commuters living in the area and the clientele consisted primarily of the working-class alongside an eclectic mix of artists, writers and outsiders who didn’t fit in anywhere.
Over the next decade or so, Frank’s cafe was treated to the occasional lick of paint whereas each year the paintwork and lettering faded slightly more on Callegari’s, which was observed by myself with a mild degree of interest. At a glance, you can only just discern the paintwork and sign writing of the long closed Callegari’s, a reminder perhaps, of a lost era. Then one day in the early 1990s, the wire grille remained in place and a handwritten sign said ‘Gone on holiday’. Ten years later the grille and the note were still there. It had faded in the sunlight to the point of illegibility and I wondered what had happened to the owner. He was Italian, perhaps Sicilian.
In the early 2000s I was becoming more curious at the visual aspect of its frontage where the geometry appeared to be holding together this crumbling edifice and in 2004 I even drew up a canvas for a potential painting. But then the focus of my life changed direction away from the making of artwork and so I stored the canvas in a cupboard and forgot about it.
When I walked past Callegari’s years later in 2016 I was amazed it was still there! it provided a distinctive and recognisable link to an ‘older East End’ that still existed and survived despite being almost eclipsed by the surrounding stark contemporary architecture of new brick, concrete and glass, and then I recalled the forgotten canvas that had been stored somewhere. When the canvas was eventually located it was like Dorian Grey in reverse, Callegari’s frontage continued to fade and deteriorate while the study remained fresh and untouched by time or the process of ageing.
Twelve years had passed since I had carried out initial investigations to make a painting; nothing had altered except the window had become even more drained of colour and the frontage was crumbling away, so eventually I started working on the canvas again.
In the eighties I would never have imagined the replacement of those individualistic coffee and sandwich bars with the anodyne chains we have today, and maybe that is the problem. In an uncertain world we are no longer prepared to be surprised or disappointed by the unexpected.
Callegari’s h 45cm x w 60cm