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Sohoitis III: Cads, Rakes, David Piper and all that jazz revels at The Café Royal

‘Cads, Rakes, David Piper and all that jazz revels at The Café Royal 19th June 2007.’

I don’t think Regent Street really counts as Soho. I think of it as it’s waistband on one side, Oxford Street on the other, but history tells another story, if only because of The Café Royal. It’s given honourable mention in so many fine autobiographies of wartime Soho, from the disastrous short story near missed marriage in ‘Welsh Rabbit of Soap: A Romance’ by Julian Maclaren-Ross to Nina Hamnett’s The Naked Torso, Alan Ross’ The Forties, Tigergirl by Betty May(cocaine-head artist’s model) along with the auto-biographies of everyone from Augustus John, acknowledged king of the café to D.H. Lawrence, famous for being sick over his own farewell dinner. Let alone Coward to Cunard, Sitwell to the Mitfords, Connolly to Waugh, yes, yes, I know Oscar Wilde too, but that was a different time.

Of course the whole place died when someone foolishly decided to revitalize it in 1928 and did it up, ‘jazz style’, and then Trust House Fortes turned it into a restaurant in the 80’s, and now the original Café Royal is a Cheers theme pub, hard to even express my depression over that little transformation. No matter how bad ‘jazz style’ was thought to be in the 20’s, it can’t be as bad as turning an institution into a 80’s sitcom from Boston can it?

The Café Royal, the bit left, is The Grill Room, still fin de siècle beautiful, is currently enjoying a little resurgence with the help of a certain caddish David Piper who runs ‘Rakehells Revels’ every Tuesday from 10.30–3am. It has become a bit of a trendsetting bolthole for anyone who loathes modern music and loves glamour. If there has to be music in a bar it should be the music that Mr Piper plays, from the Mills brothers, Louis Jordan, Tommy Dorsey, Django Rheinhardt, Billie, Ella and all their fellas. Music to tap your feet to and dance them off after a few Hendrick’s gins (well sometimes if you arrive early and look the 1940’s part, you get a free cocktail).

The only problem with this splendid bar is that it has a way of ruining Wednesdays, and Wednesday is only the middle of the week. Mr Piper was once famous for ruining Monday mornings with his Sunday night soirees called ‘Modern Times’ at the Great Eastern Hotel, but nobody minded that because Mondays are ruined anyway, associated as they still are in my mind with school and un-done homework. DP then moved onto Thursday nights at The Arts Club Soho, with a mixture of burlesque striptease and bands, but perhaps the performers were all too much trouble and he has calmed down into a mixed sweet existence of private parties hiring out his taste in CD’s, to hiring out himself as a cad. ‘A Date with a Cad’ comprises all the formal manners of old, opening doors etc, then leaving the girl crying over the bill and what she thought was a relationship, I think that costs £500 a night if you’re game.

I’m sure hookers are cheaper and more compliant but they unfortunately don’t all look like Clarke Gable as David did, up until a few weeks ago. Obviously it gets tiring being loved only for your looks but honestly, a beard? Not very 1940’s unless you’re in the navy.

So David Piper came to the roped doorway when I insisted he see that my friend Swedish Blonde artist and designer Vanessa be allowed in, though not strictly attired, but good enough to pass off as Yacht wear.

“No really Sophie, I mean there’s going to be photographers, it’s our cd launch everyone has to look smart 30’s 40’s, that’s what I’m insisting.”

“But you’ve got a beard. Smart men did not wear beards unless they were in the navy or Rex Harrison in The Ghost and Mrs Muir, in 1940’s Britain.”

Besides, he wanted to let two flippity jibbets in who were wearing bloody trainers and outfits from Warehouse or Mango! What cannot be denied was that they were 20 years younger than us, which is of course far more 1940’s style. By the time you got to 45 in 1945 you were practically dead or destitute, and dripping in widow wear, my dear!

Vanessa then started to take off her clothes pulling her t-shirt and jacket over her head bearing her breasts to the world she cried a muffled – “Naked women all look the same from the 1940’s to now so I shall come in naked and look tres 1940’s,” the free spirit said.

David look ruffled, upset and distraught he held his head and said, “I’m going soft, OK let them in, but no one else after this.”

“Thank you David you couldn’t have let in a classier guest”, I thanked him. Only a couple of days before Vanessa was at the Venice Biennale watching Sir Salman Rushdie dancing with Gorbachov to the Black Eyed Peas (unlikely dancing companions no. 1 – if you have better please email me) and sat next to Viscount Linley at lunch at the Cipriani wearing her large badge with a naked queen on it. Fancy having lunch and having to look at your aunty naked on someone’s hat? It would quite put you off your gnocchi.

So once inside the beautiful Grill Room at The Café Royal we were amongst the few partaking in the dancing, but then we were also part of the few who buggered off by 12. We both suffer from an ageing Cinderella complex in the old fashioned sense, which is why Mr Piper probably didn’t want to let us in. Shame to miss the next three hours and all the celebs and beauties arriving in their glory (dontcha know everyone goes there!) but really when apart from David and Ameche the most handsome man in Britain bother to dress ‘properly’ isn’t it a little sexist that the girls have to be tres authentic but Gordon Ramsey can come in looking just like a chef?

My piece said, I got to take the lovely CD home and I’ve been dancing around the living room all day to ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (Sophie Parkin’s claim to fame no. 1: I saw Cab Calloway’s last gig in Britain in the mid 80’s, as he was himself, and he did the splits! Perhaps that’s what killed him?)

And I haven’t even said the best story of the night – How the whole thing started in The Colony when I was on my way back from the British Library, (well someone’s got to go and write books there), And I bumped into Wilma over from Biarritz, Hilary over from the French Pub and Rachel Matthews on night release from Prick Your Finger haberdashers. So Rachel is going to do the costumes for Hilary’s film Under The Milkman, Hilary has the milkman cast with van, but more help/sponsorship in her first erotic feature would be wonderful (contact Hilary the French, Dean St) So Rachel suggested they knit a pube bikini (pronounced-PUBKINI) for the damsel, so she’s collecting underarm hair and pubic hair, before she spins it and knits or crochets it, into said arresting item. Must be clean, no lice! And that was where I saw Vanessa and persuaded her to the Rakehells CD Launch, really the whole evening was too, too Soho. Nina, Nancy, Cecil or Dylan, would have been right at home.

Sophie Parkin has written six published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry ed. Michael Horovitz.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 22nd, 2007.