I’D LIKE to say I relived my youth, put on my Parka and drove to the Okeh Café, that shrine to Sixties Mod culture on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, on my Vespa. For back then I was a Mod for all of, oh, 15 seconds.
That was the time it took me to drive across my dad’s pub car park in 1965 and fall off, severely damaging the scooter he’d bought for me - and my self confidence.
So while I clutched my notebook with excitement as a cub reporter sent out to monitor the seaside Mods and Rocker riots in Sixties Great Yarmouth I never went near two motorised wheels again.
But that didn’t stop me and the wife going all trembly when we walked through the café’s door and saw the 1959 Rockola juke box – worth £5,000 and claimed to be the very one used by Juke Box Jury – and the specially made red leatherette seats which looked dead ringers for the ones you got in Sixties Wimpy Bars.
My wife spots a poster for the Stringfellow brothers’ All Day Rave with Amen Corner in 1967. “I was there. My mum thought I was at my friend Susan’s and her mum thought she was at my house.”
The juke box is playing Honky Tonk Woman (it’s free play although the machine does have a mind of its own) as we order the Okeh Two Stroke chilli con carne (£2.20) and the Bluesman burger with blue cheese (£2.30). You won’t believe the prices here.
The Okeh opened in spring after a posse of Sixties enthusiasts and scooterists drove out to a Derbyshire pub and were refused 70 coffees because the machine had been switched off. A latter-day Mod doesn’t drink and drive.
So instead of causing a riot, after the caffeine-less drive back old friends Russ Sutton and Chris Lee dreamed up the café.
It’s been a hit from the word go.
“We thought that pub was missing a trick,” says Chris.
“We’ve had scooter clubs from Pontefract and Leeds and a Frenchman broke off his scooter tour of England to visit us. He arrived in the doorway saying ‘My name is Francis and I am ze French Mod. I thought someone was winding me up.’”
Now Otis Redding is Sitting On the Dock of the Bay and I’m admiring the Formica tabletops and thinking that if Brian Matthew served up his Saturday morning Sounds of the Sixties Radio Two show with chips this is what it would be like.
And speaking of chips, you get a big bowl of them for £1.50 and they are great. My burger, served in a breadcake, tasted pretty nifty with lots of runny gum tingling cheese and crunchy pickles.
My wife’s very tomatoey chilli was exactly like your mum would have made if she was stingy on the mince and knew about cumin. Dunked over a bowl of chips it was just what you wanted with the right amount of heat.
I’m looking at a poster for November 1963 when the Rolling Stones headlined an R&B night at the City Hall with the Big 3 and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. The supporting acts were the Sheffielders, Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs, Vance Arnold and the Avengers, the Vantennas, Karen Young and The 4 Plus 1(before their Concrete and Clay hit as Unit 4 Plus 2).
Chris would have been a mere three then but that doesn’t stop him being a Mod at heart.
“It was the music and the scooters and all that sort of thing,” he says as we order our puddings, made by a lady who prepares them on the premises, guaranteed to make you remember school dinners.
The jam roly poly did – it was a little bit too tough – but the bread and butter pudding was a treat. The price, with lots of thick custard, was just £2.20.
Now as I remember it, even allowing for the newspaper hype, Mods could get pretty nasty en masse, particularly if there were Rockers around, but these days a bloke could roar up to the Okeh on his Harley and not have to keep any eye out for his escape route.
“I wanted a happy, happy café where there was always happiness on the juke box and a person could come in, order a bacon sandwich (they do a great all day breakfast here), listen to a tune and say ‘I heard that when it first came out,’” says Chris, who sounds as if he’s turning into Ken Dodd.
We finish with coffee (any type and size you want for £1.50), sadly not milky Camp coffee in those Pyrex cups and saucers, although Chris is looking out for them.
The bill – and I still can’t believe it – was around a tenner with a big helping of nostalgia thrown in for free.
And Chris, I won’t ask you to come outside for what you said about my choice of a Mike Sarne record. After all, the Okeh Café is a happy place.
The Okeh Café, 116 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FF.
Telephone: 0114 327 4737. n Open daily 9.30am-4pm (Thurs until 9pm). Cash only.
Disabled toilet. Free music. Free parking.
My star ratings (out of five):