THE HISTORY OF THE 2i’s COFFEE BAR
The place, situated at 59 Old Compton Street, was first run by two brothers, Freddie & Sammy Irani until 1955, hence the name of the café: “2i’s Coffee Bar.” It was just one of the coffee bars that sprang up all over Soho since 1953 after the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida opened the Moka Espresso Bar at 29 Frith Street. She brought a brand new invention from her country: the Gaggia expresso coffee machine. Decorated with linoleum floors and Formica tables, it became the model for many classic Formica cafes to come during the decade.
By 1956, the Irani Brothers moved to 47 Frith Sreet where they opened a nightclub, “The Cote d’Azur.”
So two australian wrestlers Paul “Dr Death” Lincoln and Ray “Rebel” Hunter took over the lease on The Coffee Shop that opened its doors as The “2i’s” on April 22nd 1956.
Paul Lincoln and his partner, Ray Hunter, thought that the prime location between Wardour Street and Dean Street would ensure abundang passing trade but they were soon becoming concerned as the whole Street was jam-packed with other Coffee Bars. As a result, at the beginning, trade was not exactly brisk.
In July 1956, the first real group that began to play there were The Vipers, who stumbled into the 2is during the Soho Fair parade. Lincoln invited them to come back and sing there any time they’d like. They began to perform regular spots and then ended up taking a residency at the place during the rest of the season.
In september 56, Rock singer Tony Hicks was spotted by impressario John Kennedy, who was looking for someone or something that would set London’s West End alight’, during a 2i’s session with the Vipers. Kennedy invited Hugh Mendl, the A&R man for Decca Records to see him. Mendl signed him up and Hicks became the first British Rock’n’Roll star as “Tommy Steele” after the release of his debut record a month later.
The story of his discovery turned the 2is into a goldmine.
Suddenly its reputation began to spread. The 2i’s became a focal point for Rock’n’Roll enthusiasts.
Soon patrons would stay for the entire evening, ordering no more than one cup of coffee – so admission charge of one shilling was introduced.
The 2I’s Coffee Bar became a showcase… a cattle market for young hopefuls – all of whom would be assessed by impressarios, lotharios, agents and records company men such as George Martin who made regular visits to the club.
In November 1956, Paul Lincoln opened a 2nd venue, The New 2I’s Club, Which run every weekend in the multi-scene cellar at 44 Gerrard Street.
By 1957, he started to organize Rock’n’Roll package shows at Romford Odeon, in March, then The “2is Rock across the Channel” ferry trip, in June, where he launched his new discoveries such as Terry Dene and Colin Hicks, Tommy Steele’s brother.
As he was often out on the road with his acts, Paul Lincoln had appointed a new manager Tom Littlewood – an acquaintance from the wrestling world he had first booked as doorman. Policy of the club changed with him.
The Les Hobeaux skiffle group took over as the main attraction when the Vipers went off to do their fortnight at the Prince of Wales Theatre in february 1957.
Alternating the Worried Men, they provided entertainment at the 2is until summer 1957 – when they go for it.
Chas Beaumont, lead guitarist of the Worried Men, who played electric guitar, an old cello-bodied Epiphone with a DeArmond pick-up, was the first guitar player in the 2is to play single string runs and solos with any real fluidity according to Wally Whitton. He would inspired a string of budding guitar heroes who made their apprenticeship there including Tony Sheridan, Hank Marvin, Joe Moretti, Ritchie Blackmore, Albert Lee…
Star drummer Rory Blackwell set his non-stop drumming records at the 2is.
It became the real epicenter of Rock music spectrum: young aspiring rock musicians came to the 2is from all over the country, hoping to find fame and fortune.
The 2is soon became the place where Rock singer and managers went in search of suitable backing musicians: Vince Taylor turned up and recruited the cream of the 2is kids to become his backing group, the Playboys. Cliff Richard paid a visit to the club looking for a touring band. The new members of the Drifters all met by being regulars there and later found fame as the Shadows.
“Six-Five Special” was a very popular TV programme during 1957 and a special edition was broadcasted live from the 2is in November, headlining new stars such as Wee Willie Harris or Adam Daith.
Over the next 6 years many of the great names of British Rock scene and even American acts such as Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis performed on the same stage.
However, although it attracted the big names – apart from The Beatles and The Rollingstones who never played there – the limited capacity of the club meant profits were not great and The club closed its doors at the end of the following decade.
In the late 1960s, the scene had changed to the effect that the super groups such as The Beatles, The Rollingstones or Led Zeppelin, having become a part of everyday life, would play large halls, or even stadiums, and had become far too expensive for club appearances. As a result most clubs had closed or been transformed into discoteques, there came the final hours for venues such as the Star Club, Cavern Club or The 2i’s…