This year marks the 55th anniversary of the opening of a new type of Wearside venue – a club aimed at teenagers.
The post-war explosion of teen culture, with its new music and fashion trends, saw youngsters flock to The Rink or Seaburn Hall for entertainment.
But, with the exception of cafes such as Notarianni’s and Fellas, few other venues catered for the new teen class – until El Cubana opened in 1961.
“It was a magic place,” recalls former owner Eric Punshon. “The dance floor area was painted black, and it sported reflective panels on the walls.
“Below the dance floor was a purple cellar. There was a lounge and a coffee bar, which sold Coca-Cola, orange juice, hot dogs and frothy coffee.”
Eric joined forces with lifelong pal Cliff Balbach to set up El Cubana, transforming 13 Toward Road – a five-storey building – into a coffee club.
“Live music in the form of groups was the norm. The groups all had their own distinctive dress, real show business stuff,” said Eric.
“We also had the famous Limbo Pole, which appeared while the group was on their break and everyone would have a go.”
El Cubana quickly proved popular and, just over a year later, Eric and Cliff opened a new nightclub within the same building – La Cubana.
“We would get big-name groups turning up in the early hours of the morning, after they had played at the Seaburn Hall, Empire or Odeon,” said Eric.
“They performed a 30-minute spot for free, just so they could say they had played at the Banna in Sunderland and the Cavern in Liverpool.
“The biggest highlight was The Spencer Davis Group, who played at the club the very night they hit number 1 in the charts with Keep On Running.”
l Eric closed both clubs in 1969, but re-opened El Cubana as the Hot Spot in 1972. Today he lives in New Zealand.