#MusCafe Revisited

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Last Monday we celebrated out 1st birthday by inviting everyone to join us for a Twitter chat about museum cafés (and other museum and gallery eateries). All time favourites, best for lunch, best cake, best for special diets, best for families, best value for money – you name it, we wanted to hear about it.

Considering it was the beginning of the work week, and in many countries museums are also closed on Mondays (hey, you can’t choose what day of the week your birthday falls on^^), we had a great turnout. On the day we had over 300 #MusCafe tweets, with about a third over those being RTs, with another couple of dozen trickling in over the following days. Our top 10 tweeters were @missuku, @MarDoxon, @CultureThemes, @IntermezzoArts, @museecluny, @PooleMuseum, @ArtemisScotland, @IcingOnOurCake, @erinblasco and @BM_AG, but many many thanks to EVERYONE who participated. The majority of participants came from the UK, with Scotland and England pretty much level pegging. Sadly, considering around 25% of our followers are from the USA, we didn’t manage to get much of a conversation going there despite out best efforts and staying up well in to the night. So a special you to our faithful followers from across the Atlantic who did join in.

Lots of individuals took part in the event, but we also counted 24 museums (and other heritage venues), 3 museum cafés, 2 catering companies and 2 museum mascots! We even had museums joining in who don’t have a café themselves:

@museecluny “No #MusCafe @museecluny? Yes, but a nice medieval garden to enjoy the trees offered by the “patisseries” around. Dalloyau’s a must!”

@PooleMuseum “Until we get our own cafe we are happy for visitors to eat their own food in our Visitor Lounge & Terrace overlooking the Harbour.”

@OWNEYtheDOG “I wish my museum had a cafe. In “Systems at Work” exhibit, you learn how folks mailed butter & eggs. Makes ya hungry!”

In terms of specific museum cafés being recommended, the UK was unsurprisingly once again in the lead, with England just pulling ahead of Scotland. Germany and the Netherlands also got a good shout out, with over half a dozen cafés each, and there were also mentions for the USA, Spain, France, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Austria and Canada. In terms of most museum cafés mentioned per city, however, Scotland just had the upper hand, with Edinburgh beating London in to second place. Berlin, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Manchester and New York also got multiple mentions. Scotland also had the largest geographical spread, with recommendations reaching from the Scottish Borders in the South to the Shetland Isles in the North, and from Edinburgh on the East Coast to South Uist in the Outer Hebrides off the West Coast.

Of course, with everyone recommending their favourite cafés, there were several claims to the “best museum café”, with some challengers being more bold in their statements than others:

@missuku “@YSPSculpture’s got the best #muscafe on the planet. There’ll be no arguments about this, thank you”

@EmmaC_P “Best #MusCafe is @roalddahlmuseum, and I won’t be told any different!”

@MarDixon “Best #MusCafe *has* to be @WolvArtGallery Full Stop. The End.”

The prize for the single most mentioned museum café, however, has to jointly go to the Robert Burns Birthplace Place Museum in Ayrshire, Scotland and @BM_AG’s Edwardian Tearoom in Birmingham, with the V&A, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and New York’s MoMA coming a close joint second. Other venues that got multiple mentions include Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the Roald Dahl Museum’s Café Twit, Avoncroft Museum, the National Trust’s Attingham Park, Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery and the British Museum in England; the National Museum of Rural Life, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery and the Shetland Museum in Scotland; and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in the USA.

The topic that started the whole idea for a #MusCafe chat in the first place was cake, and there definitely a lot of cake recommendations, with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, National Museum of Scotland, Aberdeen Museum and South Uist’s Kildonan Museum in Scotland; and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Bantock House, the Ikon Gallery and the Platform Café at York National Railway Museum in England all getting mentioned for having great cake and homebaking. More specific recommendations included lemon cake at the V&A, banana bread at the Science Museum, bogtrotter cake at the Roald Dahl Museum’s Café Twit and traditional Victoria Sponge at the National Trust’s Charlecote Park in England; gingerbread at Dundee’s McManus gallery in Scotland; grain croissants at Barcelona’s Museu Marítim in Spain; and Sachertorte and Strudel at the Jüdisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. The British Museum and Wallace Collection in London were also both mentioned as great venues for afternoon tea, and there were several recipes shared including gluten banana bread, gluten free vegan carrot cakes, and two recipes for chocolate brownies.

@mesgcombe “A late entry for @McManusDundee for the best gingerbread ever. Including my gran’s (ssh don’t tell her!)”

@quine76 “@HorizonsThurso everything homebred the best shortbread ever tasted appeals to locals and visitors alike”

@NicoleNeolithic “The @sciencemuseum has the best banana cake I have ever tasted. Perfect after venturing into outer space.”

However, the star of the day, and possibly a reflection of the UK’s love for this particular favourite of Scottish homemaking, was the good old scone. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Shetland Museum, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Almond Valley Heritage Centre in Scotland, as well as Avoncroft Museum, the National Trust’s Attingham Park Courtyard Café and the Hepworth Gallery in England, were all parsed for their fantastic scones, with Avoncroft Museum particularly mentioned for their cheese scones. There was also some discussion about where scones count as cake, with general agreement that they definitely did, until somebody pointed out that they shouldn’t count as cake as then you could also eat cake as well ;-)

@Scotinform “We can thoroughly recommend the #MusCafe at @RobertBurnsNTS the scones are fab!”

@suziemarine “I summed it up yesterday @AttinghamParkNT courtyard cafe: air was filled with scent of early grey & fresh scones”

@musa_standrews “Is there anything better than a giant scone after seeing some culture?”

If you don’t have a sweet tooth, no need to worry, there were also plenty of recommendations for savoury options. The MCR Art Gallery in Manchester was considered a great place to start the day with a Manchester Breakfast, while the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, the Gemeente Museum in the Hague, and the British Museum in London were all mentioned as being good lunch venues with great food. For some more specific recommendations, why not try a bacon roll at Kelvingrove Museum and Arty Gallery, clam chowder at Shetland Museum, potato and watercress soup or haggis, neeps and tatties at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Scotland; tomato soup and herby focaccia at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum or soup and salad at the Imperial War Museum North in England; or tasty sandwiches (and desserts) at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa or some “delish and educational food”, including great fry bread, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in the USA. Or for something a little different, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, USA, offers “period food for the modern palate”. And if you’re just on the look out for a great cup of coffee, the special blend of coffee at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Untitled restaurant comes highly recommended.

We also chatted about museum cafés that cater well to specific audiences. One question raised was which museum cafés were particularly family friendly. There wasn’t a huge response to this, but Acton Scott Museum, a Historic Working Farm in Shropshire, offers child sized portions of main dishes in their Schoolhouse Café, and there’s a secure grassy area with hopscotch outside where children can play. Paxton House in Scotland just launched a new family friendly kids menu in their Stables Restaurant, while Almond Valley Heritage Centre, also in Scotland, with their ‘no chip rule’, was also mentioned as great for kids. Of course, there are loads of family friendly museum cafés out there, they just weren’t mentioned in the chat. Another topic that was close to people’s hearts is museum cafés that cater towards special diets, i.e. wheat free, gluten free, diary free, vegetarian and vegan menu options. The National Museum of Scotland’s Brasserie offers gluten free bread versions of their open sandwiches, while the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin also has some tasty gluten free lunch options and Out Of The Blue arts centre in Edinburgh was praised for always having a vegetarian option on their menu. The National Library of Scotland, also in Edinburgh, always has a selection of gluten free cakes in their café, and Heritage Portfolio, who service the cafés at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, regularly cater for gluten free, dairy free and vegan diets. They even posted a picture of a very mouthwatering gluten free cake as proof.

But it’s not only the food that makes a great café, but also the venue and the atmosphere, and there were several museum cafés highlighted for their unique or amazing settings, such as the V&A, the Tiled Hall Café at Leeds City Art Gallery, @BM_AG’s Edwardian Tearoom and York National Railway Museum in England; the National Museum of Scotland’s Balcony Café; the Philbrook Museum in the USA; the Deutsches Technikmuseum, the Glass Courtyard at the Jüdisches Museum Berlin, and Düsseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast in Germany; and the amazing winter garden setting at the Glyptoteket’s café in Copenhagen, Denmark. The National Trust’s Croom Court RAF Café was mentioned for its accordion player, and the MoMA Warsaw for its atmospheric piles of books.

@Intermezzo Arts “For style & atmosphere I’d choose the Edwardian Cafe @BM_AG”

@nicklebygirl “My #MusCafe tip” @railwaymuseum in York. Eat delicious cake sitting next to royal trains (…)”

@runlolarun “Love the #muscafe at the MoMA Warsaw – sitting next to a sky-high bookshelf full of art books is always a lovely thing!”

Other museum cafés were highlighted not for the settings within them, but for the beautiful or amazing views you have from them, including Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Riverside Museum and Shetland Museum in Scotland, and Tate St Ives in England:

@PooleMuseum “I think it’s hard to beat the view over Porthmeor Beach from the @Tate_StIves cafe! :)”

@riversidemuseum “Surely no one can beat the view of @The_Tall_Ship on the Clyde when having lunch!”

Finally, it was pointed out that museum cafés can also become destinations themselves and act as an introduction for new audiences.Or, as someone tweeted, they offer “an appointment to lunch, i.e. they are something special as an event themselves”. They also have table place mats which tell the story of the school, which is a nice way bringing the heritage of the site into the café setting. The National Trust is also working on a pilot project “to capture the unique spirit and stories of our places in the catering offer”. And the Kensington Palace Orangery in England often has themed menus linked to your visit.

So, overall we think #MusCafe was a huge success. Many thanks again to everyone who joined in and for helping us celebrate our 1st birthday in style!

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There were many other museum cafés too, which were not recommended for anything in particular but were mentioned for being great in general. These include: Salt’s Diner at David Hockney’s Salts Mill and the National Trust’s Kedleston Hall in England; Kilmartin Museum in Argyll, City Art Centre, Dovecot Studios and the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland; the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow; the Ludwig in Cologne, and Sarah Wiener’s at Hamburger Bahnhof and Museum für Kommunikation in Berlin, Germany; the Museo del Romanticismo’s Café del Jardin in Madrid, Spain; the Musée Jacquemart André in Paris, France; and in the Netherlands, the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerpen, Belgium; Scheepvaartmuseum and Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Volksbuurtmuseum in Utrecht, Glasmuseum in Haarlem, Zeuuws Museum in Middleburg, Kunsthalcafé in Rotterdam and Rozendall Textielfabriek in Enschede. Apologies if we have forgotten anyone. You can revisit all the tweets in our #MusCafe archive (and there were also some tweeted directly @museum140 that did not use the hashtag so do not appear in the archive).

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