The day Bob Dylan dropped by for coffee

Hanging on our walls at home are two Graham Clarke hand-coloured etchings. Clarke's naive, wobbly renditions of English scenes are his stock-in-trade, and are the kind of items that will occasionally turn up in their frames at Oxfam.

The two that hang at home are nicely framed and mounted, but for me their intrinsic value lies not in their charm but their provenance. You see, they were once the property of one, Lou Hart and back in the 80s, adorned the walls of Winkles Wine Bar in Litchfield Street.

Lou was my father's Best Man and an old family friend. He was quite possibly the shortest man I've ever known, being slightly shorter than my mother who is barely five foot high. But what he lacked in stature he more than made up for with a larger than life personality. He was in short (no pun intended) one of life's natural raconteurs with a very dry wit and fabulous comic timing, and thrived on holding court while chain smoking.

Lou, as far as I can gather, wasn't a great student, left school early at 14 and took a succession of mundane, dead-end office jobs before doing National Service at the end of the war. And then, around the time that my father was engaged to marry my mother, his fortunes were to change quite dramatically. He was to win the football pools. I'm not sure how much his prize money amounted to, but I suspect it was in the hundreds rather than thousands. It was, however, something of a small fortune back then in the early 50s. And with this new found wealth, he very sensibly set himself up in business. First there was a newsagent and sweet shop, which he later sold and with the proceeds bought a cafe in Litchfield Street in the heart of London's theatre land. The cafe included a very dingy and dank wine cellar. Under Lou's stewardship the cafe was named Bunjies, and this underground cavern, though small and decidedly poky, was opened up as a venue for live music. And it was this most unlikely of venues that in the 60s became something of a cult haunt for anyone who was anyone on the musical scene. Such became its status that it attracted the likes of  Phil Collins, Sandie Shaw, Art Garfunkle, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker, to name just some of the burgeoning talent to grace this place with its presence. At the very height of its fame in the 60s, Bob Dylan who happened to be in town, dropped by unannounced and had to pay his entrance fee to get in.

Morgan Levitt used to cook at Bunjies and remembers a young guy who used to do the washing up. "We used to rib him about wearing rubber gloves to protect his fingernails," says Levitt. The young man in question had a distinctive name: Cat Stevens. A couple of months after his stint in the kitchen at Bunjies, Stevens released his first album. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the 80s Lou sold the business and around the same time the LP album 'Live at Bunjies' was released. As a young kid I vaguely remember the black sleeve nestling between my father's collection of classical music. I don't think it ever got played.

Lou's next venture was just doors away from Bunjies. This was to become Winkles Wine Bar. I remember it well. A clean, bright establishment with polished pine furniture that had a distinctly Alpine feel, a good selection of wines, and little Lou occupying centre stage with his acolytes hanging on his every word. He was, of course, in his element.

In truth, the place wasn't run as a business so much as  a social club. And Lou would constantly complain that the tax man was becoming the bane of his life. I strongly suspect that he ran the establishment year in year out at a loss. On several occasions, my brother and I would drop by unannounced and Lou would immediately ensure we were well fed and watered before regaling us with his latest anecdotes, and would, of course, refuse to accept a penny in return. I'm sure he treated all his customers this way. His customers, after all, were his good friends.

Years later, after Lou's untimely death in his seventies, my father would become one of several beneficiaries of his will, and would encounter for the first time some of Lou's good friends. In many ways his was a life lived to the full. I remember hearing from someone that two of his regulars at Winkles, a couple of gay senior civil servants, were in the habit of offering Lou the run of their Mediterranean villa during the summer months. But I also sense that his life was tinged with sadness, for as far as I know he never had a soul mate, and would invariably take the last train home to an empty house each evening.

As for Bungies, I remember visiting it one afternoon in the 90s. I was with my working partner and we were working nearby in Soho, and had quite literally stumbled upon Bunjies by chance. At that time I had no idea that it still existed, so we both stepped down into its once famous cellar and ordered lunch - an unappetising concoction of lentils and pasta - from a girl with dyed hair and a pierced nose. Some months later the place closed down and has since reopened as a Turkish restaurant complete with belly dancers. I'm not sure that Lou would have approved.

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds

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