It isn’t pretty, and not always terribly fair, but sometimes a place just needs a good kicking. And right now the Riverside Cafe Bar in York is just such a place. On the face of it, in almost every respect, this is one of the best spots in the city. Crucially, very few tourists ever find it. And even better, it is so perfectly situated on the River Ouse that weekend summer lunchtimes here drift effortlessly into dusk without anything to show for your time, bar an empty wallet and a face the colour (and consistency) of raw steak. For hours on end the sun bakes its wide terrace while pleasure boats full of snappers pass by wondering why they hadn’t found that place above them where everybody looks so smugly pissed, and so terribly, terribly local.
So far so good, you might be thinking. And rightly so. The RCB truly is a blessed place. Although it looks rather like a cross between Hitler’s bunker and one of Norman Foster’s’ castoffs – vaulted concrete and exposed brickwork – it’s all rather comfortable and pleasant. Entered via a side alley off Coney Street, it serves as both a waiting area for the connected cinema, and as a bar/restaurant in its own right. Along one wall are comfy settees and easy chairs and covering the central area are a dozen or so functional square tables with upright seats. Flooding the entire space is the warm natural light you get when one wall is made entirely of glass.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given its hideaway location and vaguely modernist ambience, the clientele has a very New Labour smack about it. Lots of Guardian readers and brogues. Lots of rather nice hats and – almost always – a smattering of well-heeled looking mums pushing designer buggies in for a natter about their designer babies. The Guardian is the default reading material, and there’s invariably a few people clinging onto their seats for way too long whilst hiding behind their Kindles to avoid angry eyelines. Nobody, I suspect, comes here for the quality of the drinks. Yes, there’s always a smattering of local ales but there’s a desultory feel about the bar’s offerings. A sort of not bad, but not great either feel, as if someone, somewhere, doesn’t really care.
The same feeling applies to the food. The menu never changes, and the stuff that’s on offer is OK, but boring. Fish finger sandwich is fine. As is the grilled halloumi, but maybe the kitchen is too small, or maybe they’re sticking with what they know, but neither the food nor the drink live up the funky vibe and they should do. Which brings me to the kicking. In the past two years, I’ve been in the RCB maybe twenty times. On every single one of them, there have been tables littered with uncleared dishes. More often than not, I pick them up myself and heap them on the counter. But since I don’t bring my own dishcloth, I’m still left with a table covered with sugar, sticky stains, and slurps of other people’s nosh. And frankly, that is really not nice. It’s just bloody sloppy.
Nor does anyone I know like drinking their coffee, or their ale, over the boxes of smeared and grungy mustard and ketchup bottles which are a day-long feature of every table. Horrible. Truly naff. Quite clearly these should come out when someone is eating, and they should go back behind the bar when they’ve finished. For this to happen, however, it would require the RCB’s black-shirted staff to climb out from behind the bar and clear the tables……which,as you now know, never seems to happen until way too late.
Maybe I’ve been unlucky. Maybe I’m the only person who feels like this. No doubt that’s what the management will say. But if they do, they’d be wrong. So whilst this might not be pretty or fair perhaps, they are presiding over a place which is blessed, like I say, and should therefore be much, much better. One memo to the staff, and it’s