Harry Stedman on 'Caffs' Part 1
January 12 2014, 0 Comments
Greasy spoons, classic cafes, whatever you want to call them they are an important piece of (sub) cultural history here in Britain. With an aesthetic that’s distinctly working class and a little rough around the edges, ‘caffs’ held a simplistic charm that was once the perfect space for a post war generation to express themselves. In the 50s, new styles and new attitudes began to emerge from underneath the formica covered table tops, whilst previously unheard records smuggled their way from across the Atlantic and into the focal point of each establishment - the jukebox. Sounds of the blues, jazz, doowop and later rock n roll were all ingredients in the melting pot that spawned a unique cult of skiffle music. None more so than in Liverpool, the gateway to the world as it was affectionately known, seven miles of thriving dockland with plenty of lively hangouts littered along it. Between the pubs and dance halls the café’s and coffee houses became creative and cultural enclaves that added a smudge of colour amongst a grey and war battered city. Frank’s Café on the dock road would have been the first place many young men - merchant seamen, soldiers and dock workers alike would’ve rolled into, after arriving back from post in New York or South America perhaps. Straight up and straight talking Frank’s was the personification of a working mans café. Opening it’s doors in 1950 it was Said to make the best cup of tea in the city (served only in pint pots) but you can’t help but think the exhaustion of the gritty working class clientele must of enhanced the taste. From 5:30am – 6;30pm the docks were like a conveyer belt of activity and Frank’s was the filling station. On Smithdown Road was The Old Dutch Café or ‘Dutch Eddies’ to the regulars. An authentic bikers café; there would often be rows of Gleaming motorbikes lining the curb outside, inside the black leather of Schott perfecto jackets (and cheaper imitations of course) would glint under the always harsh light as they gathered in hoards. ‘Coffee Bar Cowboys’ and ‘Ton Up Boys’ as these groups became known, appropriated the humble café and gave significance to an otherwise stripped down and utilitarian environment. Another Frank, like all café owners in Liverpool at the time, needed to be a cool but stern enough fella to keep the peace when things got boisterous. In the back was another icon of Americana, the pinball machine said to have been a regular pass time for a young John Lennon and George Harrison no less. A little further down the road was Capaldi’s café / milk bar, kitted out with American style booths it too was a popular hang out due to the always up to date jukebox. Brenda Lee’s – Sweet nothing would get the heads bopping and the fingers clicking, as well as stirring a few glances at the girls. A short walk deeper into the heart of Liverpool was the Rumbling Tum café,. Situated on Hardman Street a few metres down from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. It attracted many actors, artists and musicians alike. As with many others it had its own distinct identity, in its name and its aesthetic. The Rumbling Tum opting for a monochrome décor complete with fixed bench seating and a collage of old newspapers to cover the walls. Unfortunately these raw and beautiful third spaces are hard to come by today, or at least those with real authenticity. However, if you look hard enough it’s possible to find the some of those utilitarian attributes. The unflattering lighting, the stripped back décor and a real rarity a jumpin’ jukebox. PART II coming soon; be sure to return here to enjoy the second instalment.