Follow the Banbury Road south-east out of Stratford-upon-Avon for about 10 minutes, and on the right you’ll come across a large white house. This place, oddly sited perpendicular to the road, was once a dower house – a place where a widow could live on her late husband’s estate, in this case Ettington Manor, and until recently it had been converted into a slightly tired pub and hotel called The Houndshill Inn.
Today, though, The Houndshill has a new lease of life. Gone is the faded cream facade, replaced by a fresh coat of brilliant white paint and adorned with a storey-high logo which attests to its new name: Caffeine and Machine.
A place for coffee and cars, then. And at its heart, that’s exactly what it is. But there’s so much more to it than just that; after all, anyone can stick a few pictures of cars up in a pub and call it automotive-themed.
“The most important thing here is the sense of community,” says Phil McGovern, one of the partners behind this place – the others are his dad Allan, creative director (and TV presenter) Tom Ford, and commercial director Dan Macken.
“We wanted to create a collective. It’s a bit of a socialist thing, in that way. The idea was to create a place where you could bring your machine along and be a part of this community, this home for things that move.”
In this regard, Caffeine and Machine is not new. In fact, it was established in 2015, as a regular morning meet-up for car enthusiasts in McGovern’s old stomping ground of Dubai. But it wasn’t until he returned to the UK in search of a permanent base for his brainchild – and happened upon The Houndshill – that it turned into something more tangible.
At the heart of this commune for car (and bike, and truck, and… whatever else) lovers sits the restaurant and hotel; the Roadhouse, as McGovern and his co-conspirators call it. Inside, there’s a vast chrome bar, built specifically for the purpose by hot rod and custom car fabricator Wayne Allman; on the walls hang bonnets and boots from various racing Porsches, classic race posters and dotted around are other bits of automotive ephemera – a vintage sit-on toy car here, a jerrycan there.
In the hallway sits a classic Norton racing motorcycle, while through a doorway there’s a glass-fronted room, perfectly sized for a classic car – and that’s what you’ll find, one which changes with the seasons or depending on whatever event might be taking place outside.
In here you’ll also find a richly-furnished room full of antiques. Remarkably, all are for sale. “We partnered with a local antiques dealer who provided much of the furniture for the public areas,” says McGovern. “You can buy anything with a price tag on it. The only rule is that if you spill your beer on it, you buy it.”
But while the Roadhouse might be the heart of the operation, the idea behind Caffeine and Machine is loftier and more nebulous than simply a pub and hotel for car lovers. At the back, for example, you’ll find a unit housing String Theory, a geometry specialist that will set up your car’s suspension perfectly while you enjoy a burger, along with blacksmith James Webley.
They’re the first of many businesses McGovern and his team want to have based here, making the venue more than just a place to eat and drink; McGovern talks about housing valeters that can clean your car so that you can drive home with it shining.
“Our long-term goal is to add more outbuildings so that we can house more businesses, turning this into a proper hub for all things automotive,” he says. There’ll still be plenty of parking, though – the vast car park which surrounds the building seems made for its newfound purpose.
McGovern explains that there are plans afoot to add a rank of electric car charging points, so that EV owners can feel part of this big community project, as well as to screen drive-in movies in the summer on the large grassy area to the rear.
A large events space is planned, too, so that corporate clients with an automotive bent may host events here, much like the Audi launch that’s going on as we visit. But while McGovern knows that the revenue such events will bring in is crucial to the success of this venture, he and the rest of the team are adamant that corporate interference mustn’t change what they see as their primary mission.
“We’ve had lots of people want to get involved, but many of them have wanted to own the place or a part of it,” he says. “The hotel rooms, for example; we’ve had companies ask if they could sponsor a room and theme it. That’s not the way we want it to work, so instead we’ve had to get them on board with what it is we’re trying to do. What it comes down to is that you play at our house.”
McGovern and his team know Caffeine and Machine must earn its keep, in short, but they aren’t willing to sell out their lofty goals as a result of that need. In a nutshell, this place is run by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts – not for corporate guests.
And McGovern is at pains to point out that that means enthusiasts of all persuasions. “We don’t have many rules here, but the most important one we do have is that nobody is made to feel like they don’t belong,” he says. “If we catch someone here laughing at someone else’s car, we’ll ask them to leave.”
In other words, he is adamant that no matter whether your particular thing is modified hatchbacks, vintage roadsters, American muscle, classic bikes, vintage buses – indeed, just about anything that moves – you have a home for your passions here.
In that way, this place is more than just a hub for petrolheads; it’s an embodiment of the new, more tolerant mindset that’s been bubbling away among car enthusiasts of every stripe.
Gone are the days when, if you were into classic MGs, you’d pooh-pooh a modified Honda Civic Type R as “not your scene”. At events like Bicester Heritage’s Sunday Scramble and Goodwood’s Breakfast Club, such cars line up alongside each other. These days, perhaps in response to an increasingly militant anti-car lobby, automotive enthusiasts are banding together and coming to learn that they have more in common than they might at first have thought. The enthusiasts’ scene is everyone’s scene.
In Caffeine and Machine, such thinking has found a home. McGovern’s assertion that this is so much more than just a pub, hotel and restaurant now might sound wishful, but there is undoubtedly a sense of something joyous in the air when you stroll around here.
No matter who you are, or what you drive, this is a place where you can come and show off your pride and joy, for free, among like-minded enthusiasts. What’s more, you can grab a meal or a coffee while doing so, or even have your car tweaked or tuned.
And when you leave, you’ll spot a sign at the exit. It’s there to stop potential show-offs with powerful cars from powersliding away, behaviour which could put the venue in jeopardy were the local constabulary to get wind. But it also sums up perfectly the ethos behind this place. It says, simply: “Don’t be a d*ck.” Words to live – and drive – by.
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