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 contributing writer for 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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.