Mimicking maturity in our coffee bar days

Coffee bars. Were they so long ago?

We were reminiscing about the Van Dyke coffee bar, between the Octagon and Moray Pl, north, downstairs, but as our memory batteries ran down, Google's weren't even there to start with.

Did you mean Irene Van Dyk, netballer, asked the nosey Google robot.

The Van Dyke was special, it cannot possibly be so long ago or so historically unimportant that Google wouldn't write it down.

I never went there of course, this was teddy boys, bodgies and widgies.

I would watch them disappear down that flight of stairs, the boys in tight stovepipe black jeans, and wonder what lay at the bottom, what disfiguration of Sodom and Gomorrah could possibly be down there.

My mother had already shown me the official New Zealand Government report on juvenile delinquency, how teddy boys and black jeans were at the root of this hideous new socio-psycho condition, along with comics, Davy Crockett hats and Phantom finger rings.

I wanted to go down there so much, but I was two feet high and had not yet finished primary school.

I would have stood out like a two-feet-high-not-yet-finished-primary school person.

I might also have been killed, melted down and mounted on the bonnet of an imported American car.

Which I presumed teddy boys drove. Six years later, now a not-yet-finished high school pupil, I began actually going inside coffee bars.

The Little Hut in George St, which, incredibly, is still there, still downstairs, and still with similar decor.

The Little Hut was Friday night, finding out where the parties were, because we thought we were as mature as, and even looked like, university students.

We wore duffle coats, seaman's jerseys, corduroy jeans and suede boots.

Occasionally, a university scarf we had stolen from the student party the Friday before.

Hair oiled down during the week to avoid the rector telling us to get it cut was now washed and fluffy; we all wanted to look like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

Fat chance.

We were 16 thinking we looked 20, but were actually 16 looking 16 and, mentally, going on 12.

The Little Hut was not as illicit as the Van Dyke, even though I really didn't know how illicit the Van Dyke was, but further north along George St, on the southern corner of today's Albion Way, was the Upstairs Little Hut, which opened and closed later, and thus managed at least an aura of illicit.

Very few of my friends can even remember the Upstairs Little Hut, but it was way cooler, and dimmer in light.

Seasoned older university students sat in there, ones we could not possibly emulate, for they seemed almost 30 years old, probably on their fourth academic faculty, those being the student days when you just rolled around the campus for years failing exam after exam and never getting tossed.

Some of those students had bare feet.

Was there a huge wall-sized monochromatic poster of Bob Dylan there?

Again, my friends' faces close over in dead-battery fog when I say this, but somewhere in the land of '60s coffee bars, there was such a poster, and more often than not, the music of Dylan was playing.

I'm starting to think this was a third cool coffee bar, down on what is now the one-way south, opposite what was then the Nurses' Home, 289 Castle St.

This one I think I went to around 1966.

It was frequented later in the evening, when we went, because we were so mature, by the coolest hipsters of them all.

Bare feet everywhere, dark brooding light.

That was where we once spent a night eating morning glory seeds from a garden shop after Kerouac or Kesey, one of them guys, wrote they produced hallucinations.

An unforgettable night.

''Do you feel anything?''

''Not really.''

''Dylan sounds ... different.''

''Dylan always sounds different.''

''That thing over there - it just MOVED!''

''It's a door. Someone has just come in.''

And so it went. Trying to be older than we were. Trying to grow up. Coffee bars.

• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.

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