The Partisan Coffee House was a radical venue of the New Left, at 7 Carlisle Street in the Soho district of London. It was established by historian Raphael Samuel in 1958 in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. It closed in 1962, victim of a "business model" that was hospitable to the penniless intellectuals who patronised it, but wholly unrealistic. The building is now[when?] utilised as office space.
The group that founded the Partisan initially came together in Oxford, as editors and contributors of the Universities & Left Review magazine (ULR) before it merged with The New Reasoner to form New Left Review. In addition to Raphael Samuel, the group included the late Stuart Hall and Eric Hobsbawm. Funds to buy the Carlisle Street property were raised by soliciting donations and loans from political sympathisers. The Partisan was initially intended to raise funds for the ULR, and it was partly conceived as an alternative to the Italian-style coffee bars which had mushroomed in London in the 1950s.
Major investors included:
- Michael Redgrave, actor
- Ken Tynan, theatre critic
- John Calder, publisher
- Lewis Casson, actor and producer
- Wolf Mankowitz, screenwriter
- Naomi Mitchison, novelist
- Doris Lessing, author
The main coffee house, where food was served, was on the ground floor. Tables, mostly communal, were at the back of the building. At the front a few armchairs were provided. The business failure of the venture was largely attributable to its firm policy of allowing patrons to occupy tables indefinitely without ordering anything.
The basement was furnished with more tables, and chess sets were available. Talks, poetry readings, film screenings and informal concerts were a fairly frequent feature of the basement area. The coffee house was open from 10:30 to midnight daily.
Above the coffee house were the library, and the private offices of the ULR.
Food and drink
For most of its life, the Partisan sold cappuccino and croissants for 9d each. Food served included farmhouse soup, borscht, mutton stew, liver dumplings and Whitechapel cheesecake. The menus and some posters were designed by graphic designer Desmond Jeffery.
No alcoholic drinks were served, but they were readily available at any of several nearby pubs, notably The Highlander (now the Nellie Dean) just a few steps away on the corner of Dean Street.
The Partisan attracted students, intellectuals, writers, musicians, actors and other theatrical types, all having left-wing sympathies. Among the clientele who were, or became, celebrities were:
- Doris Lessing, author
- Marghanita Laski, journalist
- Karel Reisz, film director
- Lindsay Anderson, theatre and film director
- Arnold Wesker, playwright, and the Centre 42 activists
- Peggy Seeger, folk singer
- Raymond Williams, novelist and critic
- Derek Marlowe, novelist and screenwriter
- Quentin Crisp, "The Naked Civil Servant"
- John Hurt, actor who famously portrayed Crisp in a 1975 made-for television film
- John Malcolm, actor
- John Berger, art critic and author
- Richard Hoggart, author and sociologist
- Christopher Logue, poet and pacifist
- Rod Stewart, entertainer
- Universities & Left Review magazine.
- Thorpe, Vanessa (23 April 2017). "How a Soho coffee house gave birth to the New Left". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
- "Bishopsgate Institute Podcast: The Partisan Coffee House: Cultural Politics and the New Left. Mike Berlin, 11 June 2009". Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
- BBC Radio 4 documentary by historian Mike Berlin, 4 December 2008 20:00-20:30
- Berlin, Mike (2017). The Partisan Coffee House. Bethnal Green, London: Four Corners. ISBN 9781527209039.
- Miles, Barry (2010). London Calling: A Countercultural History of London since 1945. London: Atlantic Books Ltd. p. 118. ISBN 9781848875548. Retrieved 26 March 2018.