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Soho café, for those with a taste for nostalgia

The New Piccadilly Café lives on in memories and in the archives of the Museum of Soho

13 April, 2018

The New Piccadilly Café ‘was a wonderful thing to see in the dark 1950s’

WHILE Diary is feeling nostalgic for good things past, which of our dear readers remembers the wonderful New Piccadilly Café, in Denham Street?

It closed 10 years ago, but lives on in memories and in the archives of the Museum of Soho, whose splendid collection can be found online.

It was set up in 1949 by Peter Marioni who had come from a small village near Pisa after the war. His family also ran other cafés and restaurants in Denham Street, and Peter, who passed the café on to his son Lorenzo, kitted the place out based on the colours and designs of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

In an interview before the place closed, which is also on the museum’s website, Lorenzo – known as Lolly – recalled how the place brightened up a post-war Soho.

“It was a wonderful thing to see in the dark 1950s,” he says.

The café drew in people from every nook and cranny, every sub-culture, and global migrants who found shelter in Soho.

In 1956 it became a meeting place for Hungarian dissidents, and then, in the early 1960s, Greaser bike gangs, attracted by the jukebox, took the place over.

“We had to bar them and get rid of the jukebox,” Lolly recalls. The Greasers did not take kindly to the decision.

“They drove past on their bikes, tooled up with rocks,” he says. The plate glass windows took a hammering as staff cowered behind the bar and under the Formica tables.

But the NPC survived, and thrived.

Serving up spag bols, lasagne, and other Italian staples, they also did a mean egg, chips and peas, and coffee from their pink machine.

It was no surprise the place continued to be a draw until its closure in 2007, succumbing to redevelopment plans that saw the whole block ripped down.

“It was nice, but you couldn’t make ends meet on selling cups of tea for 50p as time,” said Lolly in the weeks before it finally shut. Still, the NPC lives on in the memories of those who would pop in and enjoy the always warm welcome.

See www.mosoho.org.uk/#12

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