Espresso in a pine box The entrancing story of Le Macabre u and Sohos s coffee upheaval Telegraphcouk

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“Meard Street is one of the most beguiling spots in Soho, a gorgeous parade of auburn, early-Georgian townhouses with a rare antique street sign from 1732 at its eastern end. Number 23, today a post-production company, is as picturesque as all the other houses; thereu2019s no hint of what once dwelled in its basement.
But go back 60 years and youu2019d find customers there sitting on black coffins, tipping ash into candlelit skulls, and listening to funereal music on the jukebox. The tar-coloured walls would be adorned with plastic skeletons, painted cobwebs, and frescoes of naked women twirled in the moonlight by libidinous ghouls. Youu2019d see hip teenagers (u2018catsu2019, as they were known) wearing sunglasses, sipping espresso, and debating the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and the jazz of Dizzy Gillespie on the coffins, punctuated by the odd guitar jam.
Welcome to Le Macabre, the weirdest and most wonderful coffeehouse to appear in London since the 18th century. Its slogan: Your coffee on a coffin [see video above].
Le Macabre was just one of a fleet of bohemian coffeehouses in tolerant, cosmopolitan Soho that helped to rejuvenate a dejected, bomb-blasted metropolis after the Second World War. Though vestiges of these venues are now hard to find, a present-day tour of the district reveals traces of their existence u2013 if you know where to look.
Laid out from the 1670s as part of the burgeoning West End, Soho never quite reached the same dizzy heights of fashionability as neighbouring Mayfair or Bloomsbury. With its cheek-by-jowl townhouses, taverns, coffeehouses and gaming rooms, it soon became known for its raffish, bohemian air and, after the expulsion of Protestants from France in 1685, as a gathering place for refugees, artists, musicians, writers, other immigrants and, later, prostitutes.
Today, this creative, countercultural current is harder to detect thanks to the presence of high-street shops, skyrocketing rents, and the first signs of colonisation by investment banks. But Soho hasnu2019t quite lost its joie de vivre. Some of this energy can be traced to its ubiquitous coffee shops, from Costa Coffee to hipster joints such as Flat White, Milk Bar and Nude Espresso. All owe an unacknowledged debt to the espresso craze of the 1950s.
Happy Mother’s Day u2764ufe0f #mothersday #flatwhitesoho #cake #coffee #soho #londoncoffeeshops A post shared by flat white (@flatwhitesoho) on Mar 6, 2016 at 7:24am PST
Londonu2019s espresso revolution was launched by, of all people, an itinerant dental-equipment salesman from Italy called Pino Riservato and rippled outwards from a premises at 29 Frith Street, near Shaftesbury Avenue. Today, itu2019s a jeweller and pawnbrokeru2019s shop, which, with its grimy portico and dim interior, attracts little notice. It was similarly inconspicuous in 1953 when, as a bomb-damaged laundrette, it caught the eye of Riservato. Travelling up and down the country hawking his wares, heu2019d become mortified by the abysmal quality of Englandu2019s coffee, which was often made from chicory and coffee essence; real ground coffee was rare. Fortunately, he was related to a director of the Gaggia company in Italy and so set about trying to sell the revolutionary, high-pressure, steam-blasting espresso machine to English cafu00e9s. When no-one took the bait he went it alone, renovating the ruined laundrette, and opening Londonu2019s first espresso bar: Moka Bar.”

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