photo 3 (1)I can pinpoint exactly the moment I realised that Smokey Joe’s cafe in Cheltenham was something special. I’d had an inkling from when we found it, tucked up a sidestreet off the Lower High Street; that’s usually where you find the independents, and we were determined to enjoy a coffee and a snack without contributing to Mr Starbucks’ plans for world domination. Although we spotted the awning from the bottom of the road (and an awning is, in itself, a bit of a rarity these days), the outside didn’t give much away, but a quick nose round the door revealed a 1950s-inspired interior –enough to get us inside, up to the counter and an order in for some tasting sounding coffees and very tempting home-made cakes.

It was when we’d settled at one of the very smart diner tables and photo 1started to look around, though, that I twigged that this was more than a ‘Retro-out-of-the-box’ establishment like Ed’s Easy Diner (nothing against Ed’s, but the stuff there is all new), nor was it the kind of tea room that styles itself ‘vintage’ on the basis of a few gingham table cloths and mismatched cups and saucers. That’s an original 1980s arcade game over by the door, and it’s plugged in; those signs on the walls aren’t repros, and that cabinet over there is full of rather gorgeous original microphones, and it looks like there’s a bunch of other stuff in the back room, too. But the moment of truth came when the wee beastie and I wandered over to the 1950s jukebox by the counter, and pressed a couple of buttons to show how it would have been operated. After all, you often come across these things popped in a corner for effect, but they’re never plugged in. Not this one, it sprang into life and started playing the record we’d selected. What’s more, the waitress behind the counter immediately turned down the piped music (which was already pretty good) so we could carry on playing the juke.

 

photo 5Yep – Smokey Joe’s is authentic, all right, and when you meet the proprietor, Vickie Godding, you realise you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better qualified to run a Retro coffee bar. Her grandparents ran a cafe in nearby Churchdown in the 1940s, one of the first in the area to boast one of the new-fangled jukeboxes to tempt in American servicemen for whom such things were pretty much compulsory. Dad, Steve Joynes, clearly caught the jukebox bug as he’s the long-standing owner operator of a jukebox and arcade game hire and restoration business which still occupies the basement of the premises. Young Vickie regularly joined him on trips around the US to source new stock, which is where she gained her eye for a nice original item. The cafe brings all that background together – great catering, slick service and an ever-changing collection of memorabilia (even if Vickie’s family do occasionally complain that their favourite bits have disappeared from home to take their turn in the display).

 

photo 4Now with an evening drinks and entertainment licence, Vickie is busy expanding the cafe’s offer beyond the vintage fairs, poetry readings and other events she has already staged since their opening a couple of years ago. There’s a spacious back room that lends itself perfectly to private parties and other functions, so the potential is immense. Their Facebook page is constantly updated, so I won’t try to replicate it here, but ideas in the pipeline include cult movie nights and, hopefully, if I ask very nicely, the chance for me to spin a few records and see if that function room floor would look good with a few jivers on it. Watch this space but, if you like cake, coffee and cool surroundings, don’t wait to pay them a visit. You’ll find Smokey Joe’s at 15-17 Bennington Street, Cheltenham, just off the Lower High Street (Hinds the jewellers is on the corner), open at 10.00 daily.

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