During our college days we used to spend hours together in College Street Coffee House, situated at the crossing of College Street and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee Street - just opposite Presidency College. In those heady days of the 1960s, it was a cultural centre for the intellectuals, budding poets, painters, aspiring writers, playwrights and filmmakers. We have seen Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Soumitra Chattopadhyay and other greats to frequent the place regularly.
Recently, while surfing for this and that I found out that the history of the building dates back to around 300 years when it was the residence of the great Bengali Philosopher and social reformer Brahmananda Shri Keshab Chandra Sen.
Later, in April 1876, this place was dedicated to Prince Albert Victor of Wales and was named ‘Albert Hall’. In 1883, the first session of the Indian National Conference was held at this venue that led to the foundation of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885.
Subsequently, the Coffee Board decided to start a coffee joint from the Albert Hall in 1942. The name of the place was, however, changed to ‘Coffee House’ by the Central Government in 1947. Gradually since then, the place became a meeting place for the artists, poets, film personalities, literati and people from the wide world of art and culture. In those days it was frequented by the giants like, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwit Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Subhas Mukhopadhyay and Amartya Sen.
But, suddenly in 1958, the management of the joint took the decision to shut it down. But, fortunately it was saved and was re-opened the same year, after the professors of the renowned educational institutions like Presidency College and Calcutta University rushed off a special petition to the government, with a request to take necessary action to save the heritage place. During that time, the workers association of the Coffee House came forward to save the situation and decided to run the heritage establishment. Since then, the ‘Indian Coffee House’ has been continuing under the leadership of ‘India Coffee Board Worker's Co-operative Society Ltd’.
The Coffee House was recognized as a cultural centre of India and was declared as a Heritage building by the honourable Supreme Court of India in 1994. The interior of the place was renovated in 2009. The walls were coated with paints. Paintings and portraits of the greats like Rabindranath Tagore were put up. Though the old marble top tables were spared, the wooden chairs were replaced by the new plastic chairs. Despite these changes, the mood, the charm and obviously the enthusiasm of people engaged in ‘adda’ (gossiping), seems to be unchanged.