“Isn’t Boxpark great?”, she cried. I answered: “No”.

By - Thursday 24th November, 2016

Boxpark’s for the team leaders, not for the team

Photo author’s own.

Landing like a Vogon spaceship, Boxpark has arrived in Croydon.

Monday 31st October

Following an opening two day music festival featuring the likes of Wiley and Nova Twins, the people inside this collection of shipping containers joined together like so much Lego roll up their sleeves and prepare to feed hungry Croydonians. I arrive and I explore. It doesn’t take too long to work out that the prices here are higher than those dining on cut-price Big Macs available with a bus ticket voucher or a Wetherspoons meal-deal are used to. The burgers on offer are closer to the £10 mark, but that’s not to say they aren’t of a quality that asking price demands. A few of the containers are empty. The toilets have windows enabling visitors to witness ladies at sinks, should anyone wish to. So this is the future!

Penniless, I dine at home

Close to the side entrance of East Croydon railway station, the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is positioned to directly compete with Costa in supplying commuters with coffee and cake. As a trained barista myself, I spot that their bit of kit is top end, and anyone can tell that their bible-sized brownies blow those of their better known rivals out of the water. What they don’t have though, is heat, and I pity the department’s freezing staff as they stamp their feet to keep warm.

I go back into the structure to nose around further and discover a Mexican eatery, Chilango, a huge space named Meat Liquor, and at the other end, Breakfast Club, the only place so far to be heavily populated. The only real bustle is to be found in a queue outside Greek on the Street, due to an opening promotion where everything is £1 off the usual price. The line of people is photographed by an individual who heads back to his own place of work, Zabardast, a wrap joint across the street next door to popular coffee haunt, Smoothbean. It’s cute and cosy looking: a world away from the wooden slabs and fire escape metal I have just seen across the street.

I leave empty handed, having spent no money this day. I dine at home, penniless actor that I am.

Photo author’s own.

Friday 4th November

I’ve sold some action figures, and have cash on hip! Easily affected by hype, I’m determined to blow the lot on a fancy breakfast at Boxpark, and so head there with a friend. I want to go to that Breakfast Club place that was so busy the first time round. The Police Academy 3 poster that I spied through their window appeals to me, though I hope it’s there because of its retro appeal, rather than a warning that it represents a team of clownish incompetents.

But once again, it’s rammed. We can’t get a seat straightaway, so we search on. We pass through the mega structure, booming as it is with music that could only appeal to a tiny demographic (yeees, I hear you: ‘get with it, grandad’, hardy har). I pass Chilango’s endless queue of people outside wanting a free burrito. Yep, 100% off promotion. Clever ploy, or desperate measure?

Out of interest, I poke my head into Cronx Bar. It’s too early for me, but clearly not for others. Next door is Mud, and they do breakfasts! My friend orders a latte and I a mocha. They arrive in small glass cups sans handles. A little voice in my head says: ‘So, this is the future, eh?’ in a cheesy American accent.

It’s clear to me now who Boxpark is for

We both order egg-based breakfasts. My own is eggs benedict, with a smoked salmon topping. When it arrives, I can’t fault the eggs, poached, runny and rich with a vivid yellow yolk. The salmon though, is flaked, and ever so cold. Too cold. It’s nice to know their fridges are working though. I’m baffled by two small flowers on top of my meal. My friend assures me they are edible. Texture-wise, they are flowers. Taste-wise, they are nothing. I remain baffled.

The bill arrives and my mind races with thoughts of a lovely Moroccan place in South Croydon where I could have got the same for three fifths of the price, albeit with no flowers but more cup handles. Taking in the surroundings briefly, I sum it up as ‘chipboard chic’, and we make to leave. As I do, I pass a face I know from my unhappy days at a nearby office I escaped from two years ago. “Hi, Rob! It’s great, all this, isn’t it?”, she glitters.

“No”, I respond, before marching out with my friend. I now have a clue as to who this is all for. The upper end of the hierarchy in that office where I was once imprisoned will stick to their lunches at the Croydon Park Hotel, away from the rabble. Those at the foot of the pyramid: the outbound sales, the call centre handlers, the invisible cleaning staff, will stick to their bus ticket Big Macs and Boots meal deals. This place is for the team leaders, not the team.

Wednesday 9th November

Donald Trump has won a rather important completion, there’s terrible news about a tram derailment, and I’ve got a fair bit of dough from a recent acting job. I need a drink!

I make for Box Bar, a large space at one end of the ground floor. What I had been told about it is confirmed. “It’s like a bar at the back of a London gig venue, like Mean Fiddler”, had said one friend. And with a plastic pint of Coors Light at £5 or a can of coca cola at £2.50, it has the prices to match. Another friend had seen it of an evening and said of it, ‘it looks like people drinking in a noisy butcher’s shop’. With tiled walls and lack of character, again: nail, head.

Feeling like Jack in Titanic, I head below-deck

Back at the front entrance and up those stairs is Yumn. Here one can dine and enjoy cocktails in the most comfortable surroundings I have seen here yet, with waltzer seat shaped booths, and suited-up staff who will bring you their wares, should you be able to afford them. Feeling like Jack in Titanic, I wish them well and return below-deck. I’m headed for Cronx Bar.

Now they would have every right to offer only their tipples, wide a choice as that would be! However, they are both confident and beer-loving enough to offer other local brewers’ beers too, and this week these are Brixton Brewery and Kent Brewery. Before long, the world doesn’t seem that bad a place. I ‘check in’ on Facebook, and hate myself a little bit.

I am joined by my friend from the previous Friday. She wants to eat, buys me more beer, and easily persuades me to dine somewhere, though not necessarily here at Boxpark. I visit the gents, which are a short trot away, as none of the establishments here have their own toilets. It is not a pleasant experience. They are a disgrace, and I note that there is no cleaning log visible. But my short journey has re-alerted me to the existence of this Breakfast Club place.

Lo and behold, I’d had a brilliant time at Boxpark

We have a brilliant time there. See, it’s called Breakfast Club because it is Eighties themed, and so does more than just breakfasts! And arriving at just the right time, we have our pick of tables. It’s like eating delicious junk food in a montage from a John Hughes film! The happy hour cocktails make us happy indeed, and the eighties-ness keeps coming. Those who mourn Reflex morphing into whatever it is now, get yourselves over for a beautiful burger in brioche bun with a side order of mac cheese and, if you’re the food hoover that I am, a sharer dish of nachos that I had no intention of sharing. My part of the bill wasn’t as silly as I might have imagined, not by a long chalk. And lo and behold, I’d had a brilliant time at Boxpark. But the real reason for this was because I’d forgotten I was there.

When we leave, it is rammed once again. Peeping through the glass at the main area of Boxpark on our way out, it’s alive with people, and the banging music is back. ‘Who are they?’ I wonder. ‘Curious Croydonians, or committed converts?’. Time will tell if Boxpark will suffer the same fate as Centrale’s Food Court (and if you didn’t even know about that, don’t worry: few did). But I now know where my little corner of Boxpark is, and so long as visitors can find their own little corners, perhaps it can survive its three year mission, and maybe even beyond. I would still rather a pint and sandwich from the Warehouse Theatre’s bar though. It used to be right here. I remain in mourning for its loss.

Rob Preston

Rob Preston

Rob was a co-host on Croydon Radio's Encyclopaedia Croydonia, and hosts the popular bi-monthly tribute nights at The Oval Tavern on Oval Road. As a writer / photographer his work has been published in Doctor Who Magazine, Dreamwatch, Auton, Dog's Breakfast, Bulletin Your Head and SoHo Life & Technology Today. His short stories have been read at Tales of Croydonia at The Oval Tavern, and he is currently working on two anthologies of his own short stories, one crime, the other horror. He has written and directed seven plays at various Croydon venues, and survives today as a jobbing actor.

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  • Anne Giles

    Very good article and I thank you for your honesty. When I mentioned in the past here that I had been told that the food was overpriced, someone made a comment that I should go and buy from Tesco’s instead. O.K. That person was obviously happy with the prices. My husband’s boss went with his wife. They were happy too, but then their income is quite a bit higher than ours. When you mentioned the music only appealing to a certain demographic and an assumption that that would only mean young people, we have many friends who are musicians and some are in their 20s, but they would not like that style of music at all either. I like small cafes in areas where I can park (I am a Blue Badge holder). I would never go anywhere drafty, nor would I sit on wooden benches and decent, accessible toilets are a must. Much as I try to promote Croydon as a good place to live, work and study, I don’t have to like everything!

  • Norman Gooding

    Unlikely to venture here again after my first experience. Accosted at the top of the steps(albeit in a friendly manner) by a group of young men who had clearly had enough at seven in the evening and deafened by thumping music. Why does everything have to be so loud ? I could even hear it last night though I live half a mile away. Yes, I’m an old fart and this place is clearly not for the likes of me.

  • Ivor Shed

    I caught the title at the top and wondered where I can find the Vogon spaceship? I need a Babelfish desperately so I can understand people in the Whitgift Centre and in Wellesley Road. Took Mrs. Shed into Croydon today. I spent just over an hour in the car reading my book just to hear her come back and say she found nothing in stock. Then I paid £5.30 for the privilege (The £5 all day Whitgift car park was full).

  • Reena

    The Greek place had souvlakis for a pound, not a pound off discount :)