by Connie Lawfull, Jan. 15, 2018

With Alice, Coffee & Cocktail Extraordinaire @ Al Campo

‘Like all the comforts of home but better’ is the bold claim that café group Lounges make on the home page of their website. But with the chain running 104 bars and cafés across the country, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the personal, home-from-home atmosphere they are striving for might be unattainable. When it comes to Brighton’s Alcampo Lounge, however, the hype is justified. The huge café on London Road has become a favourite work spot for the Daily Brighton team for its great food, laid-back ambience, and personal touches that go far beyond its upcycled furniture.

According to the three long-standing friends who set up the Lounges group in 2002, their motivation for doing so was ‘simple and very selfish’—they themselves wanted somewhere good to drink. It is clear that Alcampo Lounge, with its enticing menu and easy-going charm, is a bar designed by people who love bars: you get the impression that its founders would feel just as at home in the venue they’ve created as their customers do.

Alcampo definitely has a distinctive aesthetic. What was once a Blockbusters has been decked out with an array of comfy, mismatched sofas, lampshades, coat stands and paintings, creating a quirky yet relaxed environment. The café/bar benefits from being one of the largest in the Lounges chain. Though it’s frequently busy, you’ll never struggle to find a table, and there’s no pressure to leave the moment you’ve finished your coffee. Much like in your own home, you can stay as long as you like, whether eating, working, or simply lounging.

But this welcoming atmosphere doesn’t just come from Alcampo’s size or choice of décor. The Lounge is a registered ‘Happy Café’, a movement that aims to create ‘a friendly and welcoming place to meet other people with a shared interest in promoting happiness and wellbeing’ within the local community. It is home to a book swap, drawing classes, a craft table for kids, a weekly pub quiz on Mondays, and a monthly open mic night. A chalkboard sign displayed at the counter encourages customers to perform a ‘random act of kindness’ by buying an extra hot drink or cake for the homeless with their purchase, which the Alcampo team will ensure is delivered to one of Brighton’s many rough sleepers.

In terms of the food and drink on offer, there’s lots to choose from, with kids, vegan and gluten free options, as well as a popular all-day brunch selection. Amongst the other classics and more offbeat items available, Alcampo’s menu boasts ‘a salad for people who don’t order salad’ (according to their deputy general manager), an Atlantic Pale Ale made exclusively for Lounges by Bristol Beer Factory, and what one customer calls ‘a breakfast that’s worth turning vegetarian for’.

There are also a lot of deals to be had. The Lounge have made it their mission to make Mondays ‘less rubbish’, rebranding the nation’s most hated day as ‘Cheeky Mondays’ and offering a free drink or pudding with any special, main or burger on the menu. Every Tuesday, you can grab three tapas dishes and a glass of wine for just £9.95, and on weekdays you can get yourself a cooked breakfast and a hot drink for just £7.25.

With such a broad range of food, drink and events on offer, it is hardly surprising that Alcampo Lounge attracts such a broad demographic of customers. You will find anyone and everyone there, from mother and baby groups meeting for brunch, to young professionals with their laptops, to students drinking cocktails, to dog owners grabbing a cuppa after walkies. The relaxed atmosphere persists long into the evening, making it the perfect place to catch up with friends over a meal or a pint all the way from 9am up until the café closes at 11pm.

It may be a chain, but its character, individualism, and focus on the local community make Alcampo one of London Road’s stand-out venues.

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