Portsmouth in the 60s

If, like me, you were a teenager in Portsmouth in the mid-1960s names such as the Del Monico, The Manhattan and The Keyhole may well have a nostalgic ring. The coffee bar culture was a huge part of the social scene in the 60s. Why were they so successful, and just what caused their demise? Looking back, I recall that they were all run by men and what characters they were. Hands up if you remember Charles in the Del Monico at 1a.m. on a Friday night.

     The clientele of these establishments were a fairly close-knit community, reveling in the slightly decadent atmosphere. What a shock it was to visit one of these establishments in daylight hours when the decadence seemed merely seedy – the faded and slightly moth-eaten velvet seating in The Manhattan and the smell which can be re-captured but not described.

     We girls usually met up in The Manhattan before frequenting one of the local pubs, after which we would cram into The Keyhole for frothy coffee and the juke box, ending the evening more sedately and more reflectively in the rather grown­up ambience of the Del Monico.

     I have often wondered why coffee bars are no longer popular. What replaced them for my two daughters in their own the teenage years? I suppose fast food emporiums like MacDonald’s or the Pizza Hut have replaced them. Such places certainly didn’t exist in my day, the occasional Chinese takeaway and good old fish and chips yes, but we weren’t really interested in eating. Except of course for curry, which is just as popular today. But there were no posh curry houses, The Curry Centre in Albert Road stayed open until 3a.m. and there were at least six curry restaurants in Albert Road alone.

     There were far less students around in Portsmouth then and more sailors or matelots as we called them. The students’ union organised very little in-house entertainment so we were more involved in the general nightlife of Portsmouth. I cried the day they pulled down The Star in Lake Road, nostalgic for the Friday folk club with the likes of Jon Isherwood and Pat Nelson. Folk clubs are still around of course but the inhabitants are the same as they were forty years ago and they are certainly not the haunt of the young.

     What else has changed? Well the pubs for a start. No such thing then as a theme pub or the large sanitized bars, which have arisen from the ashes of the much-lamented and intimate little bars of The Auckland or The Osborne. Both, to my mind, are perfect examples of the ruined pub, but I expect the crowds who use them on a Saturday night enjoy them as much as we did.

     The jukebox was an important part of the pub scene, along with the occasional bar billiards and, of course, darts. There were no flashing video games or live music. That was kept for the dance halls as they were still called. Disco music was a twinkle in no one’s eye but we danced to Manfred Mann every Thursday night at Kimbell’s in Osborne Road and again at the R & B club on Sundays. Remember if you will The Savoy on a Saturday night. I saw the (Rolling) Stones there as well as Tom Jones, the Swinging Blue Jeans and dear old PJ Proby.

     No bouncers in those days, or none that I noticed. Certainly no gorillas in monkey suits at the door. There were fights and people did get hurt but the violence seemed exciting then, today much of the violence nauseates, but maybe that’s from my middle age stance.

     There were a few nightclubs – the Pomme D’Or immediately springs to mind and the Rendezvous but nightclubs such as Hoddy’s tended to be for the older crowd. Hoddys lasted for years and for all I know may still be going.    

     Drugs were as freely available in the 60s as they are today. There was plenty of pot and purple hearts, as well as a number of heroin addicts. Marmion Road, for some reason, being a mecca for hard drug addicts. What alarms me today is the age of those targeted. In the 60s it was young people between the age of 16 and 21 – you could get whatever you wanted from The Portland any night of the week. Today the pushers target the schools and kids of 13 or even younger. The menace and the lure of crack, must surely be a concern for any parent today, as well as the seemingly more innocuous but just as potentially lethal glue-sniffing and inhalation of noxious but horrifyingly commonplace substances,

     Everything seems to have shunted back by four or five years. At seventeen or eighteen in the coffee bars of the 1960s we were experiencing the first flush of adulthood. Nowadays, pubbing and clubbing seems to be the norm for most 14 year olds in Portsmouth,

     Fashion too is hugely important if you’re 12, with parents being pressurized into buying the right brand of this or that item at exorbitant prices, In the 60s, fashion and pop music, were in their infancy and there was far more individuality. Maybe the mods slavishly followed a dress code and once mini skirts came in you tended to wear one however huge the thighs but that was a far as it went. I wanted to be a beatnik way back in 1963 and sported baggy sweaters and the ‘pale and interesting’ look. But that was just me, others adopted very different looks – but trying buying anything different in Commercial Road this Saturday with your teenage daughter – no chance!

     Daytime entertainment consisted of hanging around the shopping centres — Commercial Road usually; as Palmerston Road was much more upmarket and refined in those days and dear old Verrechia’s in the Guildhall Square with those marvellous marble tables and ornate glass booths. Whatever possessed the planners to demolish Verrechia’s and those wonderful wicked pubs like The Sussex Arms.  Morbid office blocks have replaced them with specially darkened glass to reflect the Guildhall – such excitement!



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