LOOKING BACK - December 5, 2019 edition

The Il Cadore Cafe in Rugby's Chapel Street

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 7:52 am
Updated Thursday, 19th December 2019, 7:53 am
John Phillpott when he was an Advertiser reporter in the 1960s

If you were a member of Rugby’s ‘It Crowd’ there was only one place to be and be seen. Former Rugby Advertiser news reporter John Phillpott recalls a lost youth spent in the Il Cadore café…

It was the place parents and authority figures loved to hate; a den of infamy that no respectable teenager would be seen dead in.

In the 1950s, it had been the haunt of teddy boys and girls. During the early 1960s, Rugby’s admittedly small population of ‘beatniks’ could be found there, lingering long over a coffee and cigarette… and by the time the second great wave of rock ‘n’ roll had hit Britain’s shores, it was the turn of the ‘mods’ to claim it as their own.

What and where are we talking about? Why, the Il Cadore café in Chapel Street, of course, once very much a landmark for Rugby’s youngsters, and now sadly long gone.

The Il Cadore was not the only Italianesque café serving the new and exotic espresso coffee in Rugby at that time, but it was by far the most popular among the young.

Standing on the corner of the street next to the London House pub and opposite the Co-op building, it was busy all day, serving meals mainly comprising chips and hamburgers, washed down with cups of the new-fangled foamy coffee.

And there was also, I seem to recall, a strange drink called a ‘tinzano’, which took the form of various coloured heated fruit juices. I’ve never ever come across such a concoction since.

In the 1950s and 60s, the majority of the adult population were either contemptuous or concerned about the apparently frivolous preoccupations of the generation that had grown up after the Second World War.

Men’s hair was getting longer, their clothes evermore effeminate and – horror of horrors – there was the emerging drugs scene, too.

In those days, Rugby had what was called a ‘drugs problem’. This was partly due to the growth nationally in amphetamine use, but also because of the town’s strategic position in the centre of the country.

The arrival of the Midlands motorway network during the decade consolidated that situation, giving easy access to the drug-pushers.

But although I know for a fact that the Il Cadore was used by drug dealers, the reality was that the vast majority of youngsters who frequented the place were mainly interested in socialising with the opposite sex.

Innocent stuff, really.

However, the Il Cadore’s reputation went before it. I remember, as a Lawrence Sheriff schoolboy, along with my mates, being warned by several masters not to go there.

It was simply something that ‘Sheriff’ boys did not do.

Of course, such dire warnings had the opposite effect.

After all, where else could you go to put endless sixpences in the juke-box in order to provide the soundtrack for chatting up Rugby High School girls?

Although the café was marketed as an Italian coffee bar, the proprietor was actually Spanish, and the day-to-day running of the place conducted by a genial chap we just knew as ‘Joe’.

He was a man with endless patience and understanding.

Occasionally, he would ban one of us for infringing some rule or other.

This happened to me once, but once the banishment was over, ‘Joe’ would welcome you back with a smile and a ‘no hard feelings’ look on his face.

He was that kind of guy… fair but firm.

So you see, parents who worried about their offspring visiting the Il Cadore had, in the main, nothing to worry about. And besides, although some of us might have sneaked the occasional alcoholic drink at the ‘Dirty Duck’ two doors away, drunkenness was not then a problem among Rugby’s young people.

But ironically, this reality was lost on most parents. For back then, the coffee bar was a sort of cultural staging post, an institution that effectively delayed – for many – the start of a lifetime habit of visiting pubs.

This was not understood at the time. The eventual arrival of the ‘lager lout’ and no-go town centres on a Saturday night was still some years off.

But to the generation that had suffered so grievously in two World Wars, the Il Cadore was universally regarded as confirmation that ‘the youth of today’ were a lost cause.

These days, there is a new building standing on the corner of Chapel Street.

And although the Il Cadore is completely gone, it undoubtedly survives as an indelible memory for all those who were around when it was truly a great time to be young.

Footnote: John Phillpott was a reporter for the Rugby Advertiser from 1965 to 1969.

His book ‘Beef Cubes and Burdock: Memories of a 1950s Country Childhood’ chronicles his boyhood in Churchover. He is now working on a memoir of his time at the newspaper.