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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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad