For someone who’s never been to England (OK, there was this one time I had an eight-hour layover in London, but that barely counts), I’m a pretty diehard anglophile. Blame it on The Great British Baking Show. Or maybe even Love, Actually. Or more realistically, my European heritage. So when my fashionista friend, Kristin, told me about the Burlington Arcade, a decidedly “British-feeling” place, I asked: alright, when are we going?
We park in a semi-empty parking lot on a balmy Saturday, and immediately get to the business of exploring. It’s quiet, in a way that makes me wonder if any of the stores are even open. My eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful glass skylight and the ornate arches that appear as though they are following a certain beat. In the middle, there’s a bright red telephone booth, which no one is using to pose in front of—a rare occurrence here on the West Coast.
The Burlington Arcade was built back in 1980 as a replica of the historic 19th century mall in London, at the behest of a financier by the name of Stanley S. Sirotin. (At the time, Sirotin was working on three Pasadena projects, but had a history of financial problems for decades). After several attempts of fooling local investors into funneling funds into fabricated developments, Sirotin fled town to England. He was later caught and sentenced to five years in state prison.
Looking around, I do feel a little bit of melancholy here—like something’s missing. Like the place has yet to float out of a long nap. There are a few stores here and there. A trendy menswear store called “The Bloke,” a barbershop, a hair salon, and a few mom-and-pop shops. But perhaps the most notable thing under the skylight is a coffee shop called “Float,” which also happens to be a sandwich and dessert shop. And that’s exactly where Kristin and I hunker down for the afternoon. As we wait for our coffee, we play with a traffic-light-yellow vintage rotary phone that’s propped up on a wall. When we finally get our orders, we sidle up by the window with a view of the arcade.
It’s a Saturday, but it doesn’t feel like a Saturday, I think, taking that first dreaded sip of my cappuccino. It’s the right temperature, the right texture, the right boldness, softened by the natural sweetness of milk. Do I see myself coming back here? Absolutely. If not for the architecture (because, as you know, that’s something I’m quite fond of), then for the coffee—which was pretty damn good.