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GES009 - Cafe Royal, London

The Café Royal was 'the' restaurant in it's day and resided at 68 Regent Street just off Piccadilly Circus.

 


The establishment was originally conceived and set up by Daniel Nicholas Thévenon, who was a Parisian Vintner. He had to flee France due to bankruptcy, arriving in Britain in 1863 with his wife, Célestine, and just five pounds in cash. He changed his name to Daniel Nicols. Under his son, also named Daniel Nicols, the Café Royal flourished and Frank Harris called his cellar “the best ever seen on Earth”.  Picture below BBC (c)

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the Cafe Royal was the place to be seen. Regular visitors included the likes of Oscar Wilde who entertained his lover Bosie (that's Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry's son if you didn't know). It was at the Cafe Royal that Wilde held court, until his somewhat foolish decision to take Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensbury, to court for saying he (a married man with children) was a 'somdomite' (sic). Another regular was Winston Churchill, who spent time waiting to find out his political future here in 1940.

In the early 20th century, the Café Royal was a haunt of two future kings, Edward VIII and George VI. An entry in the waiter's instruction book read: “Prince of Wales, Duke of York lunch frequently. Always plain food. No fuss.” Other regulars included Virginia Wolff, Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling, J.B. Priestley, George Bernard Shaw, Mick Jagger and Diana, Princess of Wales. In 1923 and 1924 the premises were rebuilt by Sir Henry Tanner to conform with other buildings in Regent Street's quadrant. From 1951, it was the home of the National Sporting Club. The Café Royal entered a period of prosperity when taken over by David Locke in 1972.

It was also a place of murder, 1894 the Night Porter was found dead with 2 bullet holes in his skull. In 2003 a Ukrainian cleaner's body was found in a broom cupboard. The Wine and Food Society was founded here by André Simon, and on November 14, 1933 the inaugural meeting took place at the Café Royal. Many Conventions were held at the prestigious Cafe, including the First Printed Circuit World Convention held at the Cafe Royal, London in June, 1978. In May 2006, Sven-Goran Eriksson announced his World Cup team here, including a very young Theo Walcott. Controversial events also occurred, including the 1979 International Whaling Commission conference.

Among the many things associated with the Café Royal is Boxing. The modern rules for boxing were drawn up by the British Amateur Athletic Club in 1866, and at the Cafe Royal they were given their blessing and promoted by The 9th Marquis of Queensbury in 1867 (The Queensbury Rules). Boxing returned to the Cafe Royal in 1951, where it has been home to the National Sporting Club, which stages boxing matches and other events. They have black tie dinners where wealthy members and clients sit eating dinner while mostly unknown faceless men pummel each other for a fistful of dollars. Every notable British Boxer from Henry Cooper to erm, Frank Bruno has graced the famous ring at some point. Pic:BBC (c)

The Cafe apart from it's amazing lavish lunches and fine dining, was famous for it's booze. The world's most extensive wine cellar has already been mentioned, but it was also famous for Absinthe drinking, of which Oscar Wilde was a big fan. It's cocktails were also second to none, producing several books. Pic: Amazon.com

Time was called on the Cafe Royal in December 2008, the building was becoming too expensive to maintain and the Crown Estate wanted to redevelop the southern end of Regent St. All the internal fittings and furniture were sold off at auction by Bonhams.Now Alrov, an Israeli property group is building a 160 bedroom 5 star hotel here, because there just isn't enough 5* beds in the capital.
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The site as it was when I did it.

The building itself was fairly well protected, with the added bonus of large street cctv dome cameras to contend with. I waited for the right moment, people coming by me every now and again, giving me strange looks. And then finally it was a quick hop in a clear moment, and I was in. I shuffled up behind a car, then waited for another clear moment before hitting the scaff and carefully circumventing the alarms. Within  a few layers, i was greeted with a row of ripped out windows. I was now in the building, and moved from room to room, looking for alarms, security, workers, large holes in the floor. This was also my first trip with my new Tokina f2.8 11- 16mm, which unfortunately i didn't know should be set to inifinity for best results in low light.

Main Auditorium - as it looks now

 

The Boxing room as it once looked.

The Boxing room as it looked at the time of the visit.

Preserving some history

Stairwell near main entrance>

The once World Famous Wine Cellar

Looking up from the 2nd Basement level (the hook is the ground floor)

More stairs

Security sign in - Amusingly i started to feel confident i was alone in this area, when i heard a creak and thought it was my walking on something, then i investigated further to find a chap a few feet away rocking back & forth on a chair producing the sound!

View from one of the higher rooms. It had a direction on the floor below as being a library

Moving outside, a light well

Contractors moving about, gotta be careful, this ain't no easy explore!

Roof scaffold (north end)

Roof fountain (beside green dome)

View of building on south eastern side (basically a facade)

Lion and female statue (Britannia?)

"It's just the sun rising, always rising

Nash's wonderful buildings on Regent St, sadly Tower Records have long gone, sniff.

Some throughfare or other

Not the greatest of pictures, but shows the glorious warm morning light

 

Behind the Cafe Royal

Looking through the arch on Air St to Piccadilly.

Enjoying that special moment when dawn breaks with me old mucka Britannia

Palace of Westminster and St. James Park

The City of London and Canary Wharf on the horizon. A close friend on the far left

Wheels on fire

Top of the displays and lower Soho