ICafe Confessional: The Pam Pam of Hanover Street

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Soho Coffee Bar, 1950s

In 1953 my employers, as part of my trade training in photography, sent me to the then Regent Street Polytechnic.

Above the photography school I soon discovered there was the art school, and that the students looked much more hip than the straights in my department. 

So, it was soon on with the French fisherman's jumper, the Jesus sandals and the mandatory duffel coat. As soon as classes were over I was upstairs joining the bohemians - or beatniks as some people called them.

The refectory in the college had about as much atmosphere as a cemetery with lights, so a girl student with whom I was highly smitten, Diane, suggested we go to the Pam Pam. A coffee bar. 

It was just across Oxford Circus at the junction with Hanover Street and Hanover Square and the exterior had a South East Asian look about it which was continued on the inside with low lighting, bamboo and palm trees in jungle browns and greens. 

The Pam Pam was quite small; it had about half a dozen very low tables and behind the counter was the first coffee machine I had ever seen. (There was a small upstairs section too over the counter with no more that three tables). 

Scandinavian open sandwiches were the house speciality (and the only ones on offer) consisting of a piece of rye bread topped with a piece of lettuce, a tomato and a hard boiled egg or a sardine - very exotic. 

A bit pricey too, I seem to remember. But the owner, a Spaniard, was never in a hurry to get rid of poor students. He also played music: jazz. Not on a juke box but on a Dansette 78 r.p.m. record player behind the counter. 

He had great taste and I was always asking him what the records were, his favourites being the boogie inspired piano pieces by Oscar Peterson. Cool sounds in a cool place.

The Pam Pam was different and quite unlike the other coffee house I was now also frequenting - the infamous French coffee/newspaper shop near the corner of Old Compton and Charing Cross Road, and the Gyre & Gimbleat at Charing Cross.

There one could rub shoulders with hookers, villains and dealers - plus the likes of Victor Passmore, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and demi-monde characters like Quentin Crisp and Ironfoot Jack. 

Because it was just outside Soho and on the edges of Mayfair, which was relatively quiet at night, the Pam Pam seemed a bit exclusive to the art students of RSP. I hung out there for about a year and became an ardent modern jazz fan.

Then National Service caught up with me. I returned from a tour of duty in Hong Kong the Pam Pam was no more; nor was sweet Diane who had introduced me to the delights of the coffee house...

© Steve Fletcher

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