From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fifty or sixty years ago this writer’s grandfather spent six out of seven evenings a week in a public house. And most working men did the same. Today, many pubs, are almost empty from Monday to Saturday. This is partly due to the fact that more men stay at home, watching the T.V., listening to the radio or reading, and partly due to a change in drinking habits.
What, then, do we drink today when we don’t drink beer? And where do we go?
Millions of gallons of tea are drunk in restaurants and roadside cafés. And soft drinks like “coke” and milk shakes are sold in the now declining milk bars. But neither the roadside caff nor the milk bar can take the place of the pub. The public house was—and to a lesser extent still is—a meeting place for working men, and women, after a day’s work. But neither the café nor the milk bar can be that, though many milk bars and some restaurants boast of a juke box. The milk bar, with its high chrome stools and numerous mirrors, is no place for social drinking.
But during the last few years a new kind of place— with “ atmosphere’’—has come into being. It is the Espresso coffee bar.
About five years ago an Italian dentist who came to Britain, so we are told, to sell mouth-mirrors, so hated British coffee that he introduced Espresso coffee machines, which, by steam pressure, pump water through ground coffee to make a fresh cup of coffee for each cup. When the coffee is topped with the foam of milk heated by steam, it is called Cappuccino. Within a year, hundreds of Espresso coffee bars had sprung up in London arid elsewhere.
In most coffee bars the lights are low—very low; the walls are covered with Piccasso-like murals, and the waitresses lode like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield! And all for ninepence a cup! This was the place that a fellow and his girl friend could sit in for hours on end— for a few shillings. But the coffee house proprietors soon found that coffee on its own or with the occasional gateau did not bring in the profits that they expected. Groups of working-class teenagers drinking possibly two or three cups of Cappuccino in an evening was of little use to them.
New and different clients had to be catered for. Coffee and gateau was not enough.
Spaghetti and Steak
A number of Espresso coffee bars began to add spaghetti to their menus; some came into existence as restaurants and coffee bars. Some are now licensed, and sell both coffee and spirits.
Another coffee bar “gimmick" is the skiffle group—three, four or more “musicians,” playing guitars, homemade string basses, etc., and singing, with pseudo-American accents, folk songs of Tennessee and the Deep South. A cover charge is made for such entertainment.
At present, Espresso coffee bars—plus spaghetti, steak, brandy and skiffle—are booming, but to a large extent they are changing. At first the Bloomsbury “intellectuals"and the Bohemians with their sandals and corduroy trousers frequented them, and then later the more typical working-class youngsters, but now many coffee bars cater exclusively for the upper-income types; others are squeezing the poorer group out with their three cups of coffee per evening.
Espresso is becoming bourgeois. Earls Court moves into Mayfair.
Peter E. Newell