London's coffeehouses have been a part of the social fabric of the city since the mid-17th century. They were a gathering place for writers, artists and philosophers, and soon were known as “penny universities” for the intellectual conversation customers could enjoy for the price of a cup of coffee.
They also became an informal place of business for local merchants and brokers, which eventually became some of the world’s most recognized financial institutions. In 1688 Lloyd’s of London got its start offering marine and cargo insurance at Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse on Tower Street. The London Stock Exchange traces its roots to 1698 when stock dealers begin to operate at Jonathan’s Coffee House on Change Alley.
Today London is a lively and international city, filled with business people, students, families, and visitors from around the world. Starbucks has been a part of the coffee landscape since its first store in London’s Chelsea neighborhood in 1998, and now has approximately 750 stores in the United Kingdom. Since 2012, Starbucks has renovated hundreds of its stores to bring in the local character of the neighborhoods they serve.
“We carefully research each building and talk to the people who live and work there to find ways to bring in the local character,” said Lynn Day, senior design manager for Starbucks UK stores. “We like our designs to have a bit of English eccentricity, with few little surprises.”
Day, who grew up in Yorkshire County in northern England and lives in London, shares a few of her favorite store designs.
Vigo Street, Mayfair
The Vigo Street store in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood is located in a historic building that draws on the domestic feeling of the 110 year-old Georgian townhouse.
The store features restored Corinthian marble columns, wooden floors and staircase. The space features the original intricate, carved mahogany ceilings – one of the few elements of original building that survived World War II largely undisturbed. Some of the seating is covered in traditional Scottish wool fabric, to bring in the rich textile tradition of the tailors on nearby Savile Road.
Bold black and white custom wallpaper leading up the staircase by Glasgow artist Johanna Basford hints at the space’s past life as a family home.
“We brought in little details for our customers to discover,” Day said. “If you look closely at the wallpaper, you’ll see coffee beans, cups, and references to both Seattle and London. It may be subtle and on a small scale, but if you’re a regular you might notice a hidden treasure.”
City Road, Old Street
Catch the London Underground at nearby Piccadilly Circus to Old Street Station and you’ll emerge in a place where Old World meets New. The Old Street Roundabout, a major transit hub for the city at the center of the neighborhood, and has been dubbed Silicon Roundabout for the technology companies that thrive here.
On the ground floor of the grand terracotta Imperial Hall, an etched siren fills the arched window. Inside, the sleek, industrial interior fits in with the start-up quality of the surrounding neighborhood.
“Old Street is the city’s center of technology and innovation, with no shortage of style,” she said. “We created a space that felt industrial and honest, with simple beauty.”
Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf
Hop back on the Tube across the River Thames to Canary Wharf’s financial district to the Starbucks on Bank Street at Jubilee Place. Here, amidst the bright lights and steel edges of the financial center, customers will find a warm, intimate space to relax.
“We wanted the space to be inviting and different,” Day said. “The bright green and orange seating helps catch the eye and bring people in on their way to the office. But the store is meant to be a haven too. It stays open late into the evening so business people can turn off the tap and let off a bit of steam from the work day.”
Did You Know?
The first Starbucks London opened on King’s Road nearly 16 years ago. The street was also the birthplace of the miniskirt and fictional home of James Bond.
Starbucks Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® Blended Crème was inspired by the British love of strawberries and cream at summer events such as Wimbledon. Stores in the UK serve as milk blended with ice then drizzled with strawberry sauce.
Customers to the Vigo Street store are welcomed by the house dog, a green-spotted statue appropriately named “Vigo.”
For Your Travels
Enjoy a Flat White, a short (8 fl oz) handcrafted beverage with steamed whole milk poured over two shots of espresso, topped with foam swirled into beautiful latte art.
Our Next Stop
We’ll head across the English Channel for a café au lait in the City of Light.