An iconic Liverpool cafe bar has reopened after a major facelift during the second lockdown and has been completely transformed.
Cafe Tabac, which claims to be the city’s longest-running cafe bars, has unveiled a new look paying homage to Liverpool ‘s musical heritage.
Established in 1974, Cafe Tabac has been a Liverpool institution for more than four decades and has been a hub for the creative residents of Liverpool, attracting artists, singers and performers amongst its varied and colourful clientele.
The independent cafe on Bold Street was originally owned by Rita Lawrence and it is very much a family business.
Rita’s niece and current owner Elaine Clarke started in the business at just 16 back in 1984 and is now recognised as a ‘powerhouse of the hospitality industry in the North West’.
Her sister-in-law Kirsty Clarke is operations manager and has supervised the cafe’s new transformation.
Kirsty said: “It’s rather difficult when you want to change something and have a revamp yet want to keep so much of what makes the place what it is – there’s a fine line that we cannot cross. The times that we are living in, unfortunately, gave us a period where we needed to be closed and so we felt like the perfect opportunity to change things about a little. When life gives you lemons.”
Soo Wilkinson of Igloo Design is behind the new-look Cafe Tabac.
She said: “Elaine approached me a few years ago to help inject some design cohesion back into Tabac. We discussed Tabac’s history and the idea of doing a memory wall took shape, in homage to a period of Liverpool’s musical heritage that often gets totally over- shadowed by The Beatles.
“Tabac played a genuine role in the lives of the young movers and shakers of the Liverpool vibrant 80’s music and art scene. Bands like The Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty Wah, Echo & The Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Icicle Works and Big In Japan were all regulars at Tabac.”
Soo worked with graphic designer Andy Garside, a fellow art student of hers in the 80s in North Wales.
She added: “We used to travel to Liverpool to go to gigs and we’d go record shopping at Probe, where we’d be sneered at by Pete Burns, which was both intimidating and thrilling in equal measure. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance to create a homage to the bands and artists that we were huge fans of at that time and still are to this date if the truth be told.”
A backdrop collage was created from a huge collection of old posters, flyers and images of Liverpool featuring some of Liverpool’s best-loved legends from that time including Pete Burns, Ian McCulloch, Pete Wylie, Margi Clarke, Jayne Casey and Chloe Poems (alter ego of punk poet Gerry Potter). They feature alongside a collection of framed images taken by Liverpool photographers Mark McNulty and Francesco Mellina.
Soo added: “We haven’t made too many changes to the bar area of, the 70s wallpaper is still there, but we’ve added classic 70s Verner Panton flowerpot lights and gave the place a lick of paint to add warmth and a pop of colour.
“On entry, you are transported back to 70s Tabac and then taken on a journey through to the 80s. It’s been a privilege to play a part in Tabac’s legacy and an absolute joy to be able to highlight and remind people about one of the most significant eras in Liverpool’s cultural history. Long live Cafe Tabac!”
Memories of the venue, during the 70s, 80s and 90s – including photographs and memorabilia now adorn a number of the walls.
Some of the city’s best-known sons and daughters have been regulars since the doors opened and still frequent the funky hangout.
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Former Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson said: “If I ever had any money for food back then, it was always spent on a sausage and apple sauce sandwich at Tabac, whether it was with the kids from the Everyman Youth Theatre or Anne Yvonne Gilbert who illustrated the cover for Relax!”
Actress Margi Clarke, who starred in the cult smash film ‘Letter to Brezhnev’ recalls the days of pre-mobile phones and hanging out at the Bold Street venue: “Tabac has always enjoyed a great position at the top of the Bold Street hill and it was a microcosm for Liverpool’s creatives.
“It was also my ‘office’ as it was the only cafe with a public phone. In the days of no mobiles, Tabac was essential for getting a job, as my agent would telephone the cafe, as they knew I’d be there! The lovely Rita used to field calls from international agents, and I remember she once told me I had a job in Monte Carlo.”
Along with the interior refurbishments, there have been some changes to the Tabac menu, with some new 70s and 80s-inspired dished by head chef Bozena Stalij, plus a new bespoke coffee blend ‘Tabac espresso’ – produced in Liverpool by Neighbourhood Coffee, the city’s first speciality roasters.
Cafe Tabac is open seven days a week from 9am to 11pm (under current government guidelines).