This summer, Coventry Transport Museum and Ace Cafe London present a new exhibition
‘Coming of age at the Ace Cafe’ telling the story of how a London transport cafe became an international icon, and the critical role the Rockers played in defining it as such. Of late i’ve become a bit of a biker fanatic and being particularly relevant to my dissertation research, I visited the museum and was impressed with their vivid recreation of the legendary cafe within the space. As soon as you walk in you are instantly confronted by rows of motorbikes that couldn’t possibly un-impress, alongside which are life-size cut outs of bikers you almost expect to instantaneously jump up and ride off. As you enter the cafe itself, you’re flung back into a sixties diner complete with bangers and mash, as well as original pinball machines, jukeboxes blasting out Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock and authentic leather jackets hanging from the chairs. It was certainly a multi-sensory experience, and if you sat at the various tables and picked up a menu there were interesting articles inside discussing everything Rocker; from clothing styles, music, cultural icons, movies and their tenuous relationship with the Mods. A projection screen on the far wall was even included, which certainly brought the space to life playing reels from interviews with original Rockers filmed at the 1994 Ace Cafe reunion, plus a segment with Dudley Sutton from The Leather Boys film. Moreover, from a fashion historian’s point of view, it was refreshing to be able to handle a few of the garments, and there was even a dressing up box just in case you hadn’t quite absorbed the whole Rocker experience fully! Overall, this exhibition certainly captured the thrill of the lifestyle as a whole and successfully portrayed the male rebellion so central to the subculture. However, from a personal perspective I felt that women in general were neglected once more despite their appearance in many of the exhibition images, and apart from a short interview in the film with a couple of ladies who asserted themselves as hard-core rockers of the sixties, there was no doubting that the show had set out to denote a man’s world of hard-wearing leather and pure mechanics. Nonetheless, I could have stayed trying on stud-encrusted Lewis jackets all day long.
By Julia Harker