Homage to Orwell
Monday, July 14, 2003
6. ORWELL'S PUBS & RESTAURANTS
On Monday our homage began with a visit to three of the pubs and one of the restaurants Orwell frequented during his second and third periods in London from 1934 to 1936 and from 1940 to 1947. As busy as he was during these times with his writing and his journalism and his war work and his broadcasting and his family life he always made time to socialize with his acquaintances and friends. Anthony Powell, a fellow-author who, with Malcolm Muggeridge, frequently lunched with Orwell at the Bodega in Bedford Street, said: "Orwell was one of the most enjoyable people to talk with about books. His conversations about his favourite authors were full of parallels and quotations".
Here's how the author Bernard Crick, in his biography Orwell: A Life, describes what Orwell was like in a social setting:
"Inwardly a solitary man, Orwell had always liked company at times of his own choosing. Reserved or inhibited about his real feelings as he was, even with intimate friends, yet he liked to spend part of the day hearing good talk about books and politics -- without, of course, seriously disrupting his work timetable. Lunches were the solution... Sometimes they ate off the Strand and sometimes in Soho...Memories of what was said on these occasions are very general... Orwell neither dominated the table nor produced memorble epigrams and certainly he lacked volume in his utterances. If too many sat down round the table, his weak voice often could not be heard at all amid the clamour of gossip and rival opinions. If few sat down, he would occasionally dominate the conversations, not always on politics or literature, often -- a friend remarked with affectionate irritation -- on "homely talk" that was a cross between 'Did You Know?' (Ripley's column in The Evening News) and a home improvement manual. He had an endless delight in 'small scraps of useless information'; just as in his home he collected objects for their curiosity value -- like his Victorian commemorative mugs -- rather than for their convenience or beauty."
"...If Orwell liked a beer before or after lunch in one of the literary pubs of that area, like the Wheatsheaf, the Fitzroy, the Bricklayer's Arms or Burglar's Rest, he did not suffer from "Sohoitis" - the contagious disease of staying there day and night, talking books but never getting any work done. He had an established regime of work for himself, only enjoying or wasting, as luck would have it, the middle part of the day. Far more rarely would he go out to dine in the evening."
The above photos were taken at the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street where Zoe and I had a perfect pub lunch sitting outside under the umbrealla. The second photo shows the room downstairs where Orwell and his friends used to meet. The third photo shows a close-up of the pictures of Orwell that are hanging on the wall. It looks like he had quite the aim with a sling-shot!
The first photo above shows me standing in front of the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place. The second photo was taken inside. Notice the picture frame on the wall on the far right. It contains a newspaper article with a picture of Orwell. The wording says, "...He himself had fixed ideas about what his friends should drink in a pub. Lettice Cooper recalls that 'whenever I asked for lager or light ale I always got the darkest kind of beer if George was ordering. I protested and Eileen said, 'It's no use, once you are established as a friend of his you become the kind of person who wouldn't drink lager or light ale and nothing will shake him.'"
The left photo above shows Zoe standing in front of the Marquis of Granby on Rathbone Street. In the second photo notice the picture of Orwell on the wall at the end of the counter. We had an interesting conversation with the bartender who was quite knowledgeable about Orwell, and who told us that on his 100th birthday on June 25th there'd been streams of Orwell fans dropping by.
Crick says in Orwell: A Life: "For a tete a tete, Orwell liked the small restaurants of the area of north Soho, now called Fitzrovia. His favourites were the Akropolis on Percy Street... the Little Akropolis... and the Elysee...."
While living in Hampstead in 1935, Orwell and his friends used to "dine at small restaurants in Soho on half-crown set meals; so even if money was very tight, he was no longer precisely poverty-stricken. At one such dinner, Rayner Happenstall was impressed by George sending back a bottle of red wine to have the chill taken off".
The above photos were taken outside and inside the Elysee Restaurant on 13 Percy Street. We spoke for awhile with the friendly Greek proprieter who told us that the restaurant has been in the same family since 1939. He said we should come back on the weekend for Greek dancing.
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