Railway Station Coffee Shops and Bars with Character

Railway stations vary greatly in functionality, aesthestics, and appeal; such characteristics can be exaggerated on a cold, wind-swept day and even more so, when you arrive either too early to catch a train, or the train is delayed.  If you’re like me, the first objective will be to find a decent coffee bar/cafe/bar (whatever your persuasion!) and pass the time away, hopefully with something to read.

Recently, I have begun to take note of train stations that have an unusual coffee shop or bar; this has been partly stimulated by the TV programmes on railway journeys that appear periodically (e.g. Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys, accompanied by his Bradshaw Guide).  So, I thought it would be interesting to try and find out just where the best examples of train station hospitality can be found, in distinctive settings.   

Last week, I visited York Railway Station and was intrigued to find two interesting candidates: the York Tap (adjacent to The Royal York Hotel) and the Costa Coffee (unusually perched atop a WH Smith outlet, but accessed directly from the footbridge).

Costa York
The old signal box now topped with coffee!

Both can easily be found on the station entrance main platform. Whilst you might venture that Costa shops have a characteristic brand/design – you certainly can not say that about the charming and unusual York train station location; not only that, but where else could you sit at your table and look, from an elevated position, directly down to the tracks and passing trains?

Great stuff, you might say – if you happen to be a railway enthusiast (like me) but nothing special if you’re simply travelling from A to B! Well, my wife found the place fascinating: a cosy atmosphere inside, plenty of interesting passenger activity, amidst a design something surely akin to an old signalbox (you would think) – and you would be right; because Costa happens to occupy York Station’s old signal box, now restored (without the paraphenalia!).

York Tap
Platform view of York Tap, atmospheric and winner of Cask Beer award.

And what of the hostelry, York Tap?  Well, with bags of character, you’ll be reassured to know that the York Tap has been named Best Cask Beer Pub in the Great British Pub Awards 2012.

Both places are well worth a detour, should you be nearby or passing through.

Two others that also spring to mind are The Refreshment Room, at Carnforth Station, and the Central Bar, at Glasgow Central Station. The Refreshment Room will be recognised by film enthusiasts as the chance encounter, meeting place  – in the 1945 David Lean film “Brief Encounter” that starred Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

Picture of Carnforth Station
Carnforth Station refreshment rooms – setting for the film “Brief Encounter”.

Carnforth offers a real step back-in-time and adjoins the heritage visitor centre in the station – well worth a visit.

The Central Bar, in Glasgow, is located on the top floor of an Edwardian-era former booking office and train information building that now serves as a retail island in the main concourse (including Boots and M&S).  Carnforth offers a real step back-in-time and adjoins the heritage visitor centre in the station – well worth a visit.  The Central Bar, in Glasgow, is located on the top floor.  It provides a useful vantage point to observe the tide of commuters ebbing and flowing as they arrive and depart.

Picture of Central Bar, Glasgow
Glasgow Central’s stylish Central Bar

These are just four examples of coffee shops and bars with varying degrees of charm or character. I would be interested to know if anyone has any gems that they would like to share.

Your comments are welcome

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