A cup of tea, and history

Moments of great cultural significance can rarely be traced to any one physical existence. In Lahore however, literature, art, and progressive discourse have always had a home address on Mall Road, in a place called the Pak Tea House.

Watch this video to learn more about the iconic café’s rich cultural heritage, its distinguished former patrons (00:47); and where it stands today (02:13).

Having opened its doors as the India Tea House in 1940 under the patronage of a Sikh family, the café changed its name and ownership post-independence in 1947. Since then, it has served cups of tea to South Asia’s most prominent intellectuals, writers, and artists. From Saadat Hasan Manto to Amrita Pritam, to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, to Habib Jalib, Pak Tea House has collected in its halls at a time more voices of South Asian literature than can now be found in the richest collections. The café was central to the region’s intellectual and political life, and a place where ideas were born, expressed and debated.

But as these names faded away, so did the café’s fortunes, and its increasing unprofitability led to the owner closing it down in 2000. Following much protest among the country’s literati, the government of Pakistan restored and reopened the café in 2013. For seven of those abandoned years in between, Pak Tea House served as a garments warehouse and a tyre shop.

Javed Aftab, Secretary of the Progressive Writers Association, reminisces about the glory days of the café, as the ‘place to be.’ No visiting writer or poet had to go anywhere else, and they came in from all over the world. Aftab considers it a lasting symbol of that era.

Syed Jawad Zaidi, Manager at the Pak Tea House, tells VCast that writers and poets are still the first priority at the Pak Tea House, and are entitled to a 25% discount, applicable on a discount card issued jointly with the Walled City Lahore Authority. Furthermore, literati can reserve the entire hall from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM to organize events and gatherings, with entry restricted to the general public during that time.

Today, it is frequented by students from nearby institutes, including National College of Arts, King Edward’s College, and Punjab University. While it doesn’t command the same aura it once did, Pak Tea House remains a symbol and a reminder of the city’s rich intellectual heritage.

You can find this video and other interviews with Pakistan’s top personalities on our YouTube channel.