The Ace Cafe enjoys a legendary place in riding folklore, but its boss Mark Wilsmore is determined to look to the future.
So as Triumph joined forces with the iconic venue for a limited edition Thruxton, he revealed his plans for the Cafe’s next decade and why it’s taken so long to spread the brand.
Back at the end of ‘93 Mark Wilsmore had a dream. To bring riders from around the world together for a reunion of the old Ace Cafe 25 years after it closed
He wrote to owners’ clubs and was deluged with sacks of letters from people recalling in almost evangelical tones how their lives had been shaped by the iconic building. “I felt like I had to deliver. There were people saying their parents met at the Ace, that they fell in love here. It was life affirming and it felt like the riding world expected me to do something. My concern was whether I’d be good enough to do it,” he said.
He was. The reunion lit a spark, he bought the freehold and set about restoring the riders’ Mecca, a goal kick away from Wembley Stadium in north London, to its former glory.
Today, the low-rise building nestled discreetly among industrial buildings is a shrine to a bygone era of innocence, rebellion, unity and the anti-motorcycle media frenzy that accompanied all three. Times have changed and the Ton Up Boys and Cafe Racers have gone, replaced by today’s riders, couples, even a pair of camouflage-clad soldiers seeking coffee, burgers and a slice of history.
Managing Director Mark, sporting a rock and roll quiff, baggy jeans and bandana jutting from his back pocket, is aware not only of the Ace’s place in time, but also its role in the future.
He’s a straight talking guy unafraid to speak his mind, so FTR put him on the spot about both.
Q. So what’s so special about The Ace?
A. Its location. It’s just a rectangular building but it’s two feet higher than the car park where the bikes park, it faces south and looks onto an open vista of sky with the constant noise and frantic traffic of the road and railway line just beyond it, but the Ace is calm. It stirs ancient human emotions, it involves bikes but isn’t just about bikes… it’s about speed.
Q. Why didn’t you just reopen it as a museum then?
A. Because we are living in history now. Things are always evolving and in recent years we’ve seen interest in Cafe Racers and rider style mushroom across the globe. It could have been a fantastic museum but this way it’s alive and vibrant like the scene it still reflects today.
Q. How important is the past to you?
A. You have to understand the social changes of the past to see where we are now. At the start of the 60s a colour magazine featured a shot of riders at the Cafe with the headline The Ton Up Creed and the words ‘live fast, love hard, die young’. A national newspaper in the UK followed it up with a front page which shouted ‘Shock Issue – Suicide Club’. It united disaffected kids so the establishment brought in speed limit legislation. Then the Mods and Rockers were born and a whole new scene that the Government rallied against kicked off, the Cafe was turned into a tyre fitting depot and the memories were put on hold.
Q. So why the tie-up with Triumph?
A. Triumph bikes capture the very of essence of the emotion that goes with the For the Ride experience. They have every aspect of different styles of riding covered except for the 125-250cc starter bikes. I’d like to see them get round to that because as we see daily here at Ace the next generation of riders are coming through as passionate as their predecessors.
Q. Where will the Ace be in 10 years?
A. We’ve got licencees in Japan, Germany, Finland and the US, but who knows where we’ll be in 2024. In Japan it’s mainly merchandise, but we anticipate opening a premises in Germany next year, and Ace Corner in Finland, near the motorcycle museum at Veistamonkatu, is small but well established. Next up is Ace Cafe USA which opens next year in Orlando - 20 minutes from Daytona. It has a car park that can host 10,000 people!
One of my all time heroes is Triumph owner John Bloor. I don’t know the fellow but he has done extraordinarily well with, I guess, skill, craft and guile – he got on with it and did it, sensibly, despite all the naysayers.Mark Wilsmore
Q. Why has it taken so long to spread the brand?
A. If I had a few million in my back pocket I could have taken the brand global quite quickly, but it’s important that we do it steadily. One of my all time heroes is Triumph owner John Bloor. I don’t know the fellow but he has done extraordinarily well with, I guess, skill, craft and guile – he got on with it and did it, sensibly, despite all the naysayers. I want to use that model. In the meantime we are working on an Ace Cafe “Guide” Book which celebrates our collaborations with Paul Smith and Triumph, our brand and the people connected with it.