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A Skelding Summary

The Café de Paris 1664 has been London's most famous dance ball and restaurant since 1914 and has enjoyed a most glamourous and colourful history.

In the early 1920's, George Foster, an eminent theatrical agent, was seeking a venue where he could introduce new cabaret acts and dance bands. When he was shown the Café which was then called the Elysee Restaurant, he bought the lease with Captain Robin Humphreys and they recruited the head waiter from the Embassy Club who was called Martin Poulson. Poulson invited the Prince of Wales who had promised him that if he ever opened hiw own restaurant, His Royal Highness would attend. The Prince agreed to visit the Café on a certain Wednesday evening and danced for 45 minutes, commenting on the wonderful dance floor.

From then on the Prince of Wales became a regular visitor and the Café was established as the home of the Jeunesse doree from 1924 onwards. When his favourite cabarets were performing, the Prince would often dine there three times a week, many times with Fred and Adele Astaire.

The Café was also frequented by many Kings and Queens of Europe, as well as much of society's elite who would escape from formal dinners early to hob-nob with actresses, divorcees, film starts, professional beauties and other people's husbands and wives. Poulson was regularly called upon to cover up their indiscretions!

The Café boasted a secret staircase from the balcony to Rupert Street which proved useful for admitting Royalty and evicting undesirables.

Many artists launched and established their careers at the Café. In the early days the favourite cabaret was Layton and Johnson but others included Billy Bennett, Mary McCormick, Jack Warner and Gertrude Niven. Fred Astaire performed there as did Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich, who made her London concert debut there. Tony Hancock, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, Eartha Kitt, Liberace, Beatrice Lilley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Shirely Bassey were among the many starts who appeared on this small stage.

The society photographer at that time was Sweke. He had the exclusive rights to photograph the celebrities at the Café. Sadly most of his work was lost in the blitz.

The Café was often used for private functions and the guests almost always included Royalty and celebrities.

By the 1930's the Café was given the nickname "the bower of love". When a young couple first reached the walking out stage, they would dine in day clothes in the back room of the Berkeley Restaurant. When things were more advanced they would go to the Café de Paris.

The Agha Khan was a frequent visitor and of course the Prince of Wales escorted many ladies to the Café.

On December 7th 1936 guests, instead of dancing, read in the early editions of the newspapers of Mrs Simpson's decision to break away from Edward.

In 1939 the Café was allowed to stay open whereas theatres and cinemas were closed by Government order. High Society gossiped their way through the blackout in the bright lights of their favourite restaurant. The Café was advertised by the management as being safe, it boasted four solid storeys of masonry above; a claim which was tragically proven to be untrue when a bomb fell on the Rialto on 8th March 1941.

In 1948 Alan Fairley and Carl Heimann refurbished the Café. This time, the patrons included the Duchess of Kent and Princess Margaret who became a regular visitor, causing much gossip about her alleged romances with suitors including Mr Billy Wallace, Lord Blandford, Lord Westmoreland, Lord Dalkeith, Major Profumo and Group Captain Townsend. Princess Elizabeth held her twenty-third birthday party at the Café de Paris 1664 on 21st April 1949.

Throughout the 1950's and the 1960's the Café de Paris 1664 retained its position as London's most fashionable venue and the display of designer labels was said to be unequalled anywhere in Europe.

In the 70's and 80's, the Café de Paris 1664 was featured in films such as Absolute Beginners, The Krays and Scandal and has been the setting for many music videos.

Since re-opening in October 1996 the Café de Paris 1664 has seen the return of celebrities enjoying themselves at the venue, including such names as Mick Jagger, George Micheal, Bryan Ferry, Marie Helvin, Bob Geldoff, Tommy Steele Mick Hucknell, Goldie Hawn, Seal, Robbie Williams, Jerry Hall, Jarvis Cocker & Elton John to name but a few.

Millennium Cafes predict that this latest chapter in the Café's history will be seen as the most prolific, energetic and significant yet.

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Index of things

Histories of Things
By Laurence Skelding

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