Trisha's: where everybody knows your name

Yo Zushi on Soho's New Evaristo Club, known to its regulars as Trisha's or the Hideout.

A year before Katrina was Catarina – a tropical cyclone that tore across Brazil in late March 2004, demolishing 1,500 homes and damaging tens of thousands of others. A fortnight earlier, in the run-up to the Spanish elections, a series of improvised bombs was detonated on four commuter trains in Madrid. The ten explosions – which the Spanish judiciary blamed on al-Qaeda – killed 191 people and injured another 1,800.

In an underground bar in Soho, London, the talk touched upon such horrors, brushed against them, but not for long enough to feel their heat. The poet Charles Bukowski once wrote: “When you drank, the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” There was no better place to escape the world than the New Evaristo Club, known to its regulars as Trisha’s, or the Hideout.

That month in 2004 comes back to me with a rare clarity because that was my first as a member of Trisha’s. Moreover, as the last night of March blurred woozily into April Fool’s Day, I leaned against the wall opposite the bar – the Sinatra wall, covered with dusty pictures of the Chairman of the Board – and kissed Zoë, my partner now of over nine years, for the first time.

Sitting in the bar today, I notice how little has changed: the same old Sinatra wall, the same life-size Humphrey Bogart cut-out on the back door, the same green tablecloths (a vestige from the club’s early days as a gambling den). Trisha Bergonzi, a registered nurse who has been the proprietor of the New Evaristo since 1999, tells me: “I don’t think anything changes down here. It just sort of stays the same.”

According to Trisha, the New Evaristo is now “the oldest club in Soho . . . This has been here 68 years. When the Colony Room was alive, that might have been the oldest. But we are certainly the oldest now.” I like her choice of words. It feels only natural that she sees bars as being “alive” or “dead”, as if they were living things. “This place has got the personal touch,” she says. “I am the personal touch.”

All around us are images from the past. On the alcove by the door are photographs of former patrons – the “dead wall”, Trisha says, pointing at the silent faces. “Mario was the oldest. He was 98 when he died.” She gestures towards an image of a stern-looking man in glasses and tells me how he “used to come here all the way from Kent, every single day. He’d have a cup of coffee and stand by one of the tables and watch people play cards for ten minutes and then go all the way back.”

Opposite this are pictures of the New Evaristo’s “friends and family”. My Australian drinking buddy Ben has finally made it on to this wall of fame. His love for the club is well known to regulars – he’s been coming here twice a week for seven years.

“If Trisha’s ever disappeared, I’d have to leave the country. There’d be no point in staying in London,” he tells me. I ask him if this is true. “It’s pretty close to the truth,” he says.

Yo Zushi's zine and album of songs "Smalltime" is available now. His video for "Something New" is on YouTube here
Bottom's up: Zushi and friends at the New Evaristo in the mid-2000s. Photograph: Zoë Taylor

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

This article first appeared in the 19 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Why aren’t young people working

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser