What was supposed to have been a ground breaking turned into a ground shaking when more than a hundred vintage automobiles and motorcycles revved their engines to signal the start of renovations for Ace Cafe Orlando. Following a proclamation naming April 30, 2015 as Ace Cafe Day in Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer donned a leather jacket with the cafe’s insignia, hopped on a motorcycle and gave the call for all of the others to “Start your engines.” Then, after a couple of minutes of ear-splitting noise from unmuffled mufflers, he waved the checkered flag for all to stop. (We knew the mayor was going to run; we didn’t know he was going to ride, too.)
Orlando’s newest themed restaurant (above is an artist's rendering) comes by way of London. Ace Cafe London, in Wembley, northwest of the city, opened in 1938 as a gathering place for people who liked motorcycles and cars and later became a place for people to listen to rock and roll. In the early days of rock and roll, British radio stations wouldn’t play it, and so people would go to cafes and bars that had the records on their juke boxes. One of the visiting executives from the London cafe acknowledged that the cars and music that made Ace Cafe popular were originally from America, so it was fitting to be bringing the cafe to the states.
Ace Cafe Orlando is the first location outside of London, and will be headquarters for the North American expansion, employing 200 people. It will occupy the former Harry P. Leu building on Livingston Street in downtown Orlando. In its more recent past the building has been home to two other night spots, the country and western themed :08, and the edgier The Edge. It was also headquarters of the peripatetic Orlando Weekly, if I remember correctly. Situated between the railroad tracks and Interstate 4 and next to the Lynx hub, it’s a perfect location for a transportation themed restaurant.
There’s much to be done — the building is basically a shell at this point. Mayor Dyer was particularly giddy about the restoration of the building’s original terrazzo floors (I share his appreciation for them).
Many people won’t appreciate the opening of yet another themed restaurant. But what is significant about this one is that it isn’t located next to a theme park or underneath a giant Ferris wheel. It’s in downtown Orlando, and it could be a big part of the reimagining of the heart of the city.
Not all the cars were roadsters and muscle cars.