LONDON — This is the original Ace Cafe. Sort of.
It sits on a roadway in the vicinity of Wembley Stadium, away from Central London. You’ll need enough pounds on your Oyster Tube card to go two zones away. Though most people, the cafe’s regulars, are more apt to arrive by motorbike. At least they did in the early days when the cafe first opened in 1938.
Back then, as the war was looming, young people would ride to the Ace to listen to one of the only juke boxes in the area. Two years after it opened, the original Ace was destroyed in an air raid.
It reopened in a new location after the war, but closed its doors in 1969, due partly to the growth of the automobile market. It reopened in 2001.
And now its available for franchising. Or as the young woman pouring the beer here said when I told her I had just visited the Ace in Orlando, “Anyone can pay the owner now and open one.”
That’s not entirely true. A partnership called Ace Cafe North America paid the owner for exclusive continental rights, and their first North American location is the Ace Cafe Orlando, which opened in May on three parcels of land that includes the former Harry P. Leu building on Livingston Street, which has a bit of history of its own.
The most notable difference between the London Ace and Orlando’s is that you could fit the former on the dance floor of the latter. Also, there is a dance floor.
And multiple floors. And spaces. And galleries and stores. The London Ace has a gift shop of sorts, more of a gift shop corner.
Ace London operates as a quick-serve restaurant: place your order at the counter and take a seat. Someone will come out when your food is ready and shout your order number. Raise your hand and the food will be brought to you.
Orlando is a full-service restaurant. You’d never be able to hear anyone shouting an order number, and they may not find you in the vastness of the place.
But there are similarities in the menus of both Aces. And I sampled the same items at both within a week of each other.
This being London, Fish & Chips is a featured item. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the London F&C (top) was quite good. The haddock had a crispy golden beer battered jacket and the flesh of the fish was fresh-tasting, moist and flaky. The thick-cut chips, or fries, were good, too.
So were Orlando’s chips. Unfortunately, though, the fish was not as good. The flesh was dry and not very hot, and the batter was too thick and pliable.
But Orlando’s version of the Chili Burger (above) was far and away better than London’s. Better quality beef, cooked to order, thick and juicy and served on a fresh bun. One aspect of the British burger was better: there was more chili (and nice and spicy chili, to boot). The Orlando burger came with fries, and I was impressed that the fries were different than the chips, as they should be. Good fries, too.
The Ace Cafe Orlando is a restaurant, but it’s also an entertainment venue. There is a stage with live bands most nights. The bandstand can be seen from the bar on the first floor, the bar on the second floor and the dining areas on both levels, as well.
As I said, Orlando’s Ace is huge. There’s even a BMW motorcycle dealer for those who want the full authentic Ace experience. There are outside patios, and sometime this summer the franchisee expects to open a barbecue smokehouse in a vacant spot of the lot. There will be regularly scheduled events. On the night I visited, the parking lot was full of tricked out low-riders on display.
There are events in London, too. A couple of nights after I visited, the special event was German Night.
So apparently all is forgiven.
One hopes the Orlando restaurant won’t, um, bomb. There is a tremendous amount of money invested in the operation. A place this large outside the tourist sector will need the support of locals.
Ace Cafe Orlando is at 100 W. Livingston St., Orlando. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-996-6686.