Ghosts of coffees past: Wild and Wood

Wild and Wood (for at least some of its life rather clumsily called Wild and Coffee after some trademarking row) was hipsterism tipped over the edge into plain wacky.

It was tucked into a small shop space in a block in the relative wilderness between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road. It occupied the space a bit like a dark-dwelling insect will make do with whatever space it has under whatever wet rock. A table to yourself meant squeezing into an alcove in the back where there was only room for a seat and a square foot or two of surface; anything else meant sharing, no matter how cosy.

Hipsterism has a place for the outsider. But the right kind of outsider: one who has natural style and ability without the self-consciousness that emanates from most hipsterists. Not the needy sort of outsider, who wishes they could be inside, but the slightly unhinged one who doesn’t know what inside is. These people can be kings, the most admired of all, because the others, the self-conscious ones, look on in awe at the reckless attitude, the freedom. There is a fine line, though, and we can easily imagine someone a bit weird who gets away with it in their 20s when they are young, good looking, relatively clean and with some potential remaining. As they grow older and shabbier, they are no longer on the team.

Where did Wild and Wood fit in? That’s open for debate. Its walls of old-fashioned English celebrity photos could be quirky (or even assumed to be ironic), or it might be re-cast these days as off-brand, or even – how should I put this? – well Brexit. The intriguing dynamic between the two omnipresent proprietors and a revolving door of young protégée assistants starkly contrasted to the usual coffee shop staff, who are often overtly trendy, young, good looking and intimidatingly (over)familiar. Wild and Wood was certainly distinctive and bold in its decision-making, which usually means hipster kudos. And as for the dynamic – I say intriguing, but I can’t quite put my finger on why (certainly not without going into too much personal detail). But if you told me they were actors and this was a long-game piece of performance art, somehow I’d believe it.

Wild and Wood was an underdog. A tiny shop crammed into whatever it could get, rich developers of buildings nearby presumably a constant threat to its long-term future. But it was also an overachiever. I’d imagine it was trading for at least 3-4 years with, I assume, a core clientele of people like me, going now and then. They were very proud to get some award (or runner-up place) from TimeOut magazine or similar. The coffee was good, they did a nice range of lunch focaccie and it was the first (and maybe only) place I’ve had a cronut, which they embraced slightly ahead of the curve.

And then one day, I got there and the developers had won. The whole block was to be converted into empty flats of foreign billionaires (probably). What became of this vaguely unreal bunch? I can only assume they came as contents of the building and, with the rest, vanished off the face of the Earth. Only to reappear a couple of miles down the road, like nothing happened.