The Troubadour – London, England - Atlas Obscura

London, England

The Troubadour

A 1950s beatnik coffee house, turned 60s counterculture hotspot, turned modern music venue. 

The people of London have had long-lasting love affair with the caffeine-filled stone fruit known as the coffee bean. From the time that it was first introduced to the isle in the 17th century, coffeehouses fostered a fertile atmosphere where people could gather to exchange ideas and argue their philosophical beliefs. Today, workers often gather with their laptops in chain coffee shops and hipsters search for the latest baristas trends. One of these iconic London institutions, The Troubadour, has its roots in the city’s coffee culture.

It should come as no surprise that the alternative subculture of the mid 20th century would want an establishment to vent their anti-establishment viewpoints. Enter Sheila and Michael van Bloemen, who in 1954 decided to open such a bohemian cafe in Earl’s Court. They called their shop the Troubadour, and it would eventually become a hot bed of counterculture activism. It was here that saw the flourishing of several organizations that raged against the authority of the 1960s.

The Black Panthers gathered at the Troubadour after the 1968 riots in Paris. The founders of the critical and satirical magazine The Private Eye, which is still going strong today, used the bistro as a meeting place. It was also the first gathering place of the “Ban the Bomb” committee, which would eventually become the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). An active member of CND, Gerald Holtom, would go onto design the peace symbol, which is based on military flag signaling for the letters N and D.

The Troubadour was much more than a local venue for activism. It was also a musical outlet where musicians like Bob Dylan, The Dubliners, Jimi Hendrix, and a plethora of other big names performed. In 1970, the van Bloemens sold the Troubadour. Though it has been renovated and expanded over the years, its new owners have honored the venue’s historic legacy.

Today, this throwback political establishment still thrives as a coffee house and restaurant in addition to a music venue. It has an eclectic decor of antique bric-a-brac. Not to be missed are the unisex bathrooms and the ornate front door, carved by original owner Michael van Bloemen.

Know Before You Go

The Troubadour is open Sunday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Check website for show listings.

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