January 16, 2015

Literary legends, bad behaviour and American Presidents: remembering the Groucho Club bar


It looks so unassuming.

It looks so unassuming.

London’s infamous Groucho Club is currently closed for refurbishment and when it reopens, it will have a completely new bar. In The Independent, the writer John Walsh has been reminiscing about the old Groucho Club Bar, and its place in cultural history:

The Groucho Bar! For 30 years it was the scene of several thousand trysts, the launch pad of a million art projects (“…and we’ll get Mark Ronson to do the music, yeah?”), the runway of a billion public appearances by visiting divas and the oasis where a trillion gallons of house sauvignon were drunk in the early hours.

Considering that the Club, which is located in London’s Soho, was set up by a group of publishers and agents who wanted an alternative to a gentleman’s club, it’s worth sharing some of Walsh’s highlights over the years.

The Club’s members are drawn from the publishing, media, entertainment and arts industries, which ensures a constant mixture of celebrity, notoriety and real achievement circulates at all times. Walsh remembers one evening when the writer and presenter of ‘In Our Time’ Melvyn Bragg arrived at the bar after a book prize ceremony. An insistent Irish man approached him:

“They’re in the brasserie. Just come and say hi, Melvyn,” the man kept saying. “It would mean a lot to them.”

“Look,” said Melvyn, “I’ve just come in. I’ve just sat down. We’re ordering drinks. If they want to say hello, they can come to me, can’t they?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Melvyn,” the man said. “They want you to come to them. It’ll only take a minute, honest. Please?”

“No. They can come over here.”

“Please, Melvyn. It would mean so much…”

Eventually Bragg rose and followed the man. Bono and U2 were waiting for him.

Bad behaviour abounded:

I was there when a leading US novelist woke from a drunken slumber, upended a little condiment tray of black pepper onto the table and snorted a line of it up his nose.

Or if that’s not bad enough for you, Walsh offers this:

A lady journalist friend proudly boasts of being approached by a chap in America whom she didn’t recognise. “You must remember me,” he insisted. “When we met before, you gave me a blow job in the ladies’ loo of the Groucho.” “I’m sorry,” she replied. “That doesn’t really narrow it down.”

The magic of the bar is the fact that you never know who will walk in next, and with whom. Bono appears again in perhaps Walsh’s best recollection:

Bono presided over one of the legendary walk-ins, a quasi-divine appearance at Christmas that had seasoned clubbers rubbing their eyes as if Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus had turned up. It was Bill Clinton. Bono and Mariella Frostrup brought him to the club after they’d all appeared together at a literary bash. Clinton was relaxed and chatty, while his security men muttered into their security mikes about his dubious-looking neighbours, and Bono bashed out “Happy Christmas, Mr President” on the club joanna.



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.