Shared Moments: Day 93 – Milk Bars to Coffee Bars

Dear all,

Milk Bars were popular in the 1950s. I remember my sister buying me a milkshake from one on Boar Lane. By the time of my teenage years these had disappeared in favour of Coffee Bars.  Coffee was served in Pyrex glass cups  but friends and I usually preferred a glass of ice cold ‘Pepsi’. The main attraction of a Coffee Bar, apart from meeting friends and possibly hoping to attract attention from boys – was the juke box! Not the wall mounted ones where you turn the pages for choice but the tall bulky machine with the titles across the front. I think it cost 6d a play. A very popular Coffee Bar in the 60s  was the ‘Del Rio’ on Lower Basinghall Hall Street. Downstairs in a cellar, the rough walls being covered with posters,  the air was thick with the smell of coffee and Embassy cigarettes. My Mum never approved of me going to the ‘Del Rio’ being in the basement and she worried constantly for me, fearing a fire and how we would escape. Two other popular Coffee Bars at that time were ‘Number 18’ on Eastgate and ‘The Four Cousins’ in ‘Woolies Arcade’. In the counter-top glass cases there would be sandwiches, cheese slices and tomato  in breadcakes and the infamous ‘Rum Babas’ – a sickly sweet doughnut concoction.

In the 1950s my Mum and we would occasionally call at ‘Betty’s’  on the corner of Lands Lane and Commercial Street. I don’t remember visiting the Cafe upstairs as I’m sure it would have been imprinted in my memory, however I can ‘see’ Mum now, paying at the cashier’s window –  unless one paid for the confectionery from the shop there too? Round the corner from ‘Betty’s’ was the ‘Milkmaid’; on three floors, each one being different in style and clientele. Where the Halifax Bank stands now on The Headrow was the Ceylon Tea Centre the shop at street level selling all things ‘tea’  – unsurprisingly – and downstairs was the Cafe, another popular one in its day. The cafe in ‘British Home Stores’ always reminded me of a Ferry cafeteria! It was in the basement, had lots of plastic greenery around and a distinctive droning noise,  to my ears reminiscent of engines on a cross channel ferry. It was the monochrome murals around the walls that probably will  be remembered by many. Photographs of Leeds streets, rooftops, factories and chimneys and one could often hear  someone trying to figure out where they were taken.

The beginning of the 60s saw the arrival of ‘Wimpy’ bars! Springing up everywhere there was one opposite the ‘Odeon’, another at the bottom of Briggate and one on New Station Street, plus out in the suburbs too. On a Saturday evening I would go with Mum and Dad to the one at Seacroft (now where the Sue Ryder charity shop is) and if the weather was nice, a drive out of Leeds calling at the one at Wetherby roundabout. I can’t remember my favourite ‘Wimpy’ meal but the photos above the counter fascinated me with all the dishes – particularly the sausage ring. It was of course the ‘Cumberland’ variety but to young eyes I just marvelled at the round sausage! One funny memory I have of the ‘Wimpy’, the seating being the uniform padded bench type seats – with not much room to manoeuvre. My sister, heavily pregnant at the time tried to leave the table and couldn’t even stand up – she was stuck! Eventually managing to shuffle along the bench, her son’s birth certificate did later state ‘Hyde Terrace Maternity Hospital’ rather than ‘Wimpy Bar’!

A couple of years later my family found a new cafe – with a difference. It was the ‘Fortes’ Services at Barnsdale Bar on the A1. What a novelty for a weekend afternoon; sitting  in a cafe and  watching the cars going past at a top speed of about 50 mph! Added excitement was the bridge over the A1 – to watch the spasmodic traffic from – and another cafe at the other side! In later years the ‘novelty’ of  Service Stations was the extortionate prices charged.

Back to Leeds now and the ‘Kardomah’! At the mention of its name, everyone recalls the huge coffee machine in their window and the divine smell of the beans! I am sure (but could be wrong) that ‘Collinsons’ on Albion Street also had a coffee machine or a coffee-themed window? I think Collinson’s was rather more ‘staid’ in their appeal, however they catered for wedding receptions upstairs, so it must have been a sizeable establishment. ‘Kardomah’ was the most popular though and quite a fashionable meeting place back in the day.

Nowadays everywhere we turn there are ‘Costa’, ‘Starbucks and ‘Cafe Nero’, to name but three. Not my favourites at all! I don’t like those huge cups where one’s drink soon goes cold. I drink many cups of tea but will no longer pay for a day’s supply in one huge throwaway cup.  Bring back the days of the more individual tea rooms and coffee shops which have their own character; providing customers with the size of cups they want and tasty treats on offer, rather than mass-produced and overpriced food.

Thank you for sharing your memories with us Maureen, until next time…..