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From America with love
MAXINE GORDON visits the York café and vintage shop where even the table and chairs are for sale.
SIT down for a strong flat white at the Bison coffee house in York – and be prepared to hang on to your seat. For this is a café with a difference.
Everything inside the compact two-room space at the foot of Heslington Road has a price tag – from the simple wooden ex-school chairs to the aluminium coffee pots and even the café workstation.
Owner Gavin Burke, 28, is a classics graduate from Newcastle University, who settled in York a few years back.
His vintage style of choice is ‘Americana’, which he defines as “American vintage, anything from the 1920s to the 1950s”. Or anything, he adds, before the Space Age.
There’s a heavy lean toward the functional and kitchen items in the shop: Gavin clearly likes things with a purpose.
“We sell lots of glass jars, crates, racks and vintage pigeon holes – we sell a lot of them for shop fittings.”
Items for the home don’t come more desirable, he reckons, than a 1940s French coffee pot made in Bakelite and stainless steel.
Step inside the back-room café and there are shelves of coffee pots on display, again all for sale.
But there are also teak tables, chests, mirrors, angle-poise lamps and even a set of deer antlers on the wall, all with a price tag. Friends needn’t fight over a choice piece either as Gavin says he can easily order more. “We’ve got a full deer’s head on order!”
Fancy the beat-up leather chair lingering in the café corner – it’s yours for between £150 and £200.
Why Americana? “I like the battered style of it,” says Gavin. “I like wood and metal and I like the rough and readiness and the functionality of it. These are useful objects with a faded utilitarian grandeur. It’s lovely.”
Vintage is in his blood. “I never had anything new. I grew up in a house that looked like this,” says Gavin, surveying his premises.
His mum, Sharon Bradley, is a vintage dealer based in Dorset. A few years ago, she moved to France to run a hotel. Gavin, originally from Middlesbrough, followed her, working in bars and ending up as a DJ, eventually landing his own show on Radio Nova in Bordeaux, where he had to speak French.
It was quite an achievement because he when he arrived in France he could barely speak the language.
“I spoke French with a Yorkshire twang!”
After two years in France, he moved back to the UK, settling in York and keen to open a café on the bustling route to the university.
“It took me a year and a half to find this place. There’s not really a coffee house in this area and there is a high density of students and dedicated local people.”
Customers can pick from a selection of drinks and snacks. Nine types of coffee are chalked up on the café blackboard, from espresso and French press to mochas and cortados.
On our visit, the intriguing sounding “Hasbean, Jailbreak Blend” was the brew of the day, which Gavin explained was “sweet and balanced, but quite bold”.
He said customers could request their preferred type of coffee via the Bison website. “We are quite malleable as far as customers are concerned,” says Gavin.
There is also a selection of breakfast snacks, toasties, and treats such as brownies on sale as well as soft drinks and teas.
Gavin sees Bison as more than a coffee house and vintage shop. “I want it to be a community space. People can book it for events in the evening. We have free WiFi and people come in here to work.”
It is also an exhibition space, showcasing work by local artists.
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