Amidst the twisted tapestry of massaged stats, misinformation and denial, one concrete casualty of the catastrophic Government approach to combating Covid that can penetrate the blind spots of even the most committed lockdown fanatics is the wholesale destruction of the hospitality industry. You can’t avoid it; the cold, hard evidence is there whenever you stroll along any urban parade. When it comes to businesses that have been laid waste by the illogical laws, rules and regulations rushed through and imposed without any evident care or consideration for the economy, cafés, clubs, bars, restaurants and – most visibly of all – pubs have arguably suffered more than any other outlet patronised by the public in 2020. Of course, many pubs were already struggling long before any careless Chinese scientist dropped a test tube thousands of miles away; they’ve been vanishing at a record rate due to various factors over the past decade, beginning with the smoking ban of 2007. But that most traditional (and though I detest the phrase I’ll use it) ‘community hub’ of these islands has been discarded this year with a casual criminality by the powers-that-be that makes a mockery of the faux-Blitz Spirit that the fatuous ‘we’re all in this together’ guff seeks to generate.

Ironically, one way – and the worst possible way – that the ‘we’re all in this together’ slogan actually rings true is in the across-the-board massacre of an industry that employs millions; the humble taverns in the town have been brought to their knees, yes – but so have those higher up the food & drink chain. Yesterday it was announced that London’s prestigious Café de Paris would not be opening its doors again, just four years short of celebrating its centenary. If ever proof were needed precisely how much of a leveller the nihilistic policies drummed-up by public health ‘experts’ drunk on power have proven to be, the closure of such a legendary venue with such a rich history is it.

Naturally, it’s easy to play the yardstick measurement game and regard the demise of a classy nightclub situated in the capital as not being worthy of sympathy when lined-up next to a small provincial business that was utterly inclusive and affordable and provided its proprietors with their sole income; indeed, how can a club in the ownership of a notable restaurant group be remotely comparable a tragedy? Well, for one thing, the Café de Paris wasn’t staffed by robots. It closure means more numbers are added to the unemployment figures, and if you’re made redundant it makes no difference if your P45 came from the Café de Paris in London or Roy’s Rolls in Salford – you’re still out of work.

The moving of time’s goalposts has already seen what used to be referred to as ‘the Naughty Nineties’ rebranded simply as the 1890s both because there’s nobody left alive to recount just how naughty they were and those of us left alive have since lived through another 90s; and now we’ve reached the third decade of the 21st century, will ‘the Roaring Twenties’ suffer a similar fate? The generation that made it out of the First World War in one piece and the one too young to have experienced it first-hand famously shook off the shackles of lingering Victorian conformity and were determined to have a party – those that could afford it, of course. Corsets were cast aside, hemlines rose, cocktails were consumed, cigarettes were smoked, and a frenzied new music called Jazz soundtracked the hedonism. Yes, it all came crashing down along with Wall Street in 1929, but it must have been fun while it lasted. The Bright Young Things that Evelyn Waugh observed and satirised saw various night-spots spring up to cater for their extravagant tastes, but the one that lasted the longest – almost by a full century – was London’s Café de Paris.

Opening in 1924, the Café de Paris was an instant magnet for the It Girls and Boys of the age, one specialising in ‘cabaret’ when that word evoked images of Art Deco-draped decadence most famously associated with the Berlin of the period rather than the naff ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ connotations it later acquired. The Café de Paris swiftly garnered a glamorous reputation as an epicentre of movers and shakers when the playboy Prince of Wales became a regular patron and Hollywood icon Louise Brooks introduced the Charleston to these shores on the venue’s dance-floor. Just as the Swinging London of the 60s was enjoyed by a small group of affluent youngsters, the Swinging London of the 20s was reserved for a similarly exclusive set, if not more so, with the class boundaries far more rigid then than 40 years later. Things only relaxed during the Second World War when the club had no option but to introduce a more democratic door policy in order to remain in business; the premises also took a direct hit from a German bomb during the Blitz, an incident that resulted in over 30 deaths, but enabled what had previously been an elitist enclave to look the London beyond the West End in the eye.

Unlike the Windmill (‘we never closed’), the Café de Paris didn’t reopen until 1948, but even if the Jazz Age was over by then, it didn’t take long to re-establish itself as both a place to be seen and to perform; ‘cabaret seasons’ from the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward, as well as performances by A-listers such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, were regular attractions in a post-war era sorely starved of glamour. Changing pop cultural fashions and the eventual rise of a generation eager to establish its own night-spots left the Café de Paris as something of an irrelevant relic in the 60s and 70s. However, as is always the case, the circle eventually comes full and by the 80s the Café de Paris had acquired a certain retro hipness that resulted in a new role as an ideal location for shooting movies set in the recent past; both ‘The Krays’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’ made use of the venue’s charmingly faded grandeur.

By the dawn of the 21st century, the Café de Paris seemed to be in good health again; a postmodern, kitsch concept of cabaret became one of its weekly features and a refreshingly rare dress code was upheld that made the venue one of the few contemporary clubs to spare patrons the blight of the slob ensemble characterised by trainers and sportswear; ditto the fancy dress clichés of the shrieking hen party. One had to make the effort to pass through its doors – and why not? In its heyday, the Café de Paris had been the place for those keen to be seen on the cultural cutting edge; but in its later years it had offered an old-school alternative to the modern nightclub, trading on its past and reinventing itself as an oasis of antiquated sophistication. After WWII it was symbolic of the good life for those prone to dreaming of one in the bombsites of monochrome Blighty, and it could have served a similar purpose in the post-Covid bombsite we’ve all got to look forward to. Alas, it won’t get to perform that function for tomorrow’s dreamers.

The permanent closure of the Café de Paris is due to Maxwell’s Restaurant Group, the club’s parent company, going into liquidation with the loss of 400 jobs. The constant uncertainty surrounding all hospitality venues, the dramatic cutting in customer numbers on account of coronavirus restrictions during the brief spells when they sporadically reopen, and inevitable rent arrears on premises denied making money have all played their part in bringing to a sad end a chapter in the capital’s nightlife that was one of the few surviving links to an era now very much beyond living memory. Surrounded by the obliterations of livelihoods far lower down the social scale, many will perhaps regard the disappearance of the Café de Paris with a shrug of the shoulders and an opinion that others have got it far worse; but when depression hits, escapism and dreaming matter. And we’re going to need them more than ever in the years to come, for we won’t have much else.

© The Editor

14 thoughts on “SAD CAFÉ

  1. One high-profile, central London casualty will hide many hundreds, or more likely thousands, of bread & butter businesses in the hospitality sector which will fail to survive this commercial cataclysm, an event which, like the smoking ban before it, was not of their making, but rather engineered by others regardless of the impact on trade, jobs and the social needs of the many.

    Some friends in the restaurant trade currently despair for when their business can recover: they are quite fortunate, with no loans or rent to cover they can mothball it for as long as it takes, but their greatest concern is for their unemployed staff and the relationship with their loyal customers, coupled with abject boredom from sitting at home all day with nothing to do – after a lifetime of working unsocial hours, seven days a week, they have no idea how to fill the time. My incoming daily phone calls bear witness to that.

    I may have personally declined to patronise any local pubs or restaurants since 2007, but that doesn’t stop me caring about the innocent victims of this second unwarranted assault on their profession, all the owners, the cooks, the waiters, the pot-washers and the cleaners, along with the chain of suppliers who have helped sustain the valued trade. They didn’t deserve this. No one will note their individual business failures, they will just fade away, nursing their wounds, probably never to return, and the social fabric of the land will be much the poorer for that. Thanks, Boris.

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    1. Re your last paragraph – I think some friends of mine believe that because I wasn’t a great social animal back in the old days (i.e. February), the current situation hasn’t impacted much upon me at all. But, like you, I am acutely aware of the damage being done to an option that has always been there for me should I want it. It’s probably about three years since I last ate out, but I do actually like to every now and again, and looked forward to doing so someday. I never thought the time would come when there’d be nowhere left to eat out.

      When one steps back and takes a sustained study of precisely what is being done to all these livelihoods in an industry everyone either uses regularly or likes to sample every once in a while, it really does beggar belief that any government of any colour would countenance such a catastrophe. It’s almost as if this one really doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing…


  2. Yes. I should point out though, that this situation, and your government’s reaction to it, is far from unique to Britain. Restrictions in the Republic of Ireland were/are similarly oppressive with regard to the catering and hospitality trade (we are currently in a relatively relaxed Level 3 lockdown, with restaurants and pubs which serve substantial meals ‘allowed’ to open – God, I hate using that word, it makes us sound like a quasi-totalitarian state, which currently we closely resemble in some ways), but everyone says we will be back to full lockdown again imminently, possibly as early as Xmas Eve.

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      1. Re the link, all rather chilling, if very familiar by now. I should imagine similar decrees have been issued across Europe and beyond. I’m trying my damndest to resist turning into a conspiracy theorist, but they’re making it very difficult. Whoever’s pulling government strings must be sat around a table egging each other on – ‘Right, we’ve got away with so much more than we ever imagined we’d be able to, so let’s see what we can do next. Any ideas?’ And up go all the eager little hands. This is insane.


  3. Nicola f****ing Sturgeon. While I am sympathetic to Scottish nationalism on principle, she really is a very tiresome person. Utter control freak, now hoisted on her own petard. I find even her grovelling apologies for the pub breach thing tiresome. I’d almost have more respect for her if she just went “one rule for us, different rule for you plebs, that’s just how it is. Don’t like it? vote for the fucking Tories.”.

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    1. On that delightful story, I have to applaud Ruth Davidson, leading the opposition in the Jock Joke Chamber today – she showed huge maturity by not even mentioning Wee Krankie’s hipocrisy, the fact that she didn’t raise it probably achieved far more impact than if she had. Smart politics.

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    2. Ah, Wee (ironically, or sarcastically named ) Nippie.
      A dried up mid Ayrshire Holy Nicky, without even the excuse of The Kirk for her miserableness.
      My theory, totally without any evidence other than her behaviour, is that she had a drunken, bon viveur of an uncle. Who totally embarrassed her at her wee clique get togethers.
      Rabbie Burns would have had an ode for her. Maybe a play on the name Nick- oh la.
      Alex Salmons’ real crime was that he enjoyed himself, so he had to go.
      She is made even more bitter and twisted because her cunning plan to make us pay an extra four of your English pounds for a bottle of whisky, meant the extra cost went to the businesses and not into her sticky paws to be spent on “good” causes.
      Just wait til she has control of the taxes. The land and sea will be thick with windmills, government airports with no aircraft, government shipyards that have forgotten the art, a police force bereft of funds, new hospitals which are shut because they have the misfortune of killing patients.
      The English must be eagerly anticipating this Darien Scheme Mark Two.
      Rant over.

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    This is interesting. The pleasure-haters loved closing the pubs and restaurants, but it turns out they don’t (granted, with reduced numbers and restrictions) represent much of a risk after all.

    It’s the schools that are spreading it. The schools that various lobby groups and vested interests (including many of the parents, understandably) demanded be reopened, because otherwise the poor little childer would miss out on their state-mandated brainwashing, er sorry, education. If schools are so fucking important, how come I, who rarely missed a day and topped the class in most subjects, ended up in such a mess (back living with mum at 48, no job, no savings apart from, fortunately, funds in my pension which I’m too young to acces on the dole?).

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    1. I myself find it odd that footballers can engage in the most physical (non-sexual) form of intimacy on the field of play when the ball hits the back of the net, yet the traditional handshake remains out of bounds for the team managers when the ref blows the final whistle. The inconsistencies of the Covid rules and regulations could certainly give VAR a run for its money. As for schools, yes, cram 30 unrelated children into a confined classroom, but spend Xmas Day in the freezing garden or indoors with all the windows open because three or four blood-relative visitors might breathe the same contaminated air as the host. Beyond me.



    It’s interesting, the Irish government seem a bit more willing to stand up to the medics compared to their UK counterparts. This isn’t the first time they haven’t given into all of the medics’ demands. Probably, I am being naive and they are playing political games. “Hey, boss this latest poll showed most of the public don’t want Level 5, you can increase your popularity ratings if we leak to the media that you were among the Cabinet ministers who voted against a return to Level 5.”

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  6. No comment, just a thank you for a year’s thought-provoking and often funny writing. Happy Christmas, and may you eat out in the New Year.

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