In the early 1960’s I used to walk down Sydney Place from South Kensington Station to Chelsea Art School. At the bottom of Sydney Place I would pass what I believed to be one of the most exclusive fish restaurants in Chelsea. In my dreams, at some time in the future, I would be able to afford to enjoy their menu.

And so it came to pass that approaching Christmas 1976 I wished to show my gratitude to a number of clients for the orders they had given me. At the time Sandra Cooke (later to become Lady Lean) was PA to Thomas Brod and confidentially privy to the tastes of many of the art dealers. When asked about their eating prefrences, she immediately said “ Fish, shellfish and more fish.”

Armed with a photo of a Still Life by Osias Beert, I went to the owner of the Pond Place restaurant to see if he would copy it in real life as a centrepiece to the table for my guests. To boost the atmosphere I bought a number of exotic shells that subsequently were displayed in the shop in Bury Street.

Osias Beert still life

Fortunately the meal was a great success and under the affluence of incohol it was agreed that we should all meet again at another Christmas celebration. I knew who would be paying!

Several years later followed the previous Christmas party at Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, a venue steeped in the tradition of serving fish and crustacea, and known as “The Great Dame of Swallow Street”.

Since 1916, the foremost and the fashionable have been dropping in. A light lunch of langoustines, a dozen oysters and a flute of fizz with friends before the theatre.

Upstairs the Grill serves rooms on the first floor and I reserved The Crustacea Room with windows looking out onto Swallow Street.

Upstairs table at Swallow Street

It was as Bentley’s state, the perfect place for a business breakfast, lunch or dinner, or simply to celebrate an occasion in style. It was here that I first tasted Lobster Thermidore, it was sensational.

Moving forward, it was at the end of 1970’s when I was fortunate to acquire the shop in Bury Street, St James’s, from Robert Noortman, a highly prestigious art dealer – and it was time again to find a venue for a Client’s Christmas party.

To set the scene, the area was still catering to the needs of gentlemen with the numerous all-male gentlemen’s clubs, plus there were wine merchants, cigar shops, shops selling sponges, loofas and shaving brushes.

Bury Street doorway

In Ormand Yard there were Turkish baths where one could spend the night.

Bury street runs behind the clubs with service flats for the mistresses. So rife was the prostitution that a law was passed that all doorways were required to be gated at 7.00pm to stop “activities” occurring – a law that is still in force today. Living in the flats above the shop there were still some very old “kept women” who could be recognised by their out-of-date attire and make up applied by a trowel, with a scarlet slash of lipstick that looked more like a bullet wound.

In Duke street, the next street back, was the Chequers pub, usually filled with louche art dealers. Beside it was an archway that led through to Mason’s Yard, home to an electricity substation in the centre of the square with a celebrated gentleman’s public convenience built against it, that was much used for cottaging.

Chequers pub

Across from this was the old Keyhole Club, which from 1965 to 1972 became “The Scotch of St James” known as the hippest club in London’s music aristocracy. In the Swinging London years it was the rock and roll spot of the likes of The Stones, The Beach Boys. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and The Beatles, who had their own table in the Mayfair bar.

The Scotch of St. James was where a then unknown Jimi Hendrix first performed on the night of his arrival in England on 24 September 1966, when he joined the house band for an impromptu session on stage. It was on this night that Hendrix met Kathy Etchingham who became his girlfriend. On 25 October 1966 the Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first UK gig as a private showcase at Scotch of St. James. The club was also where Paul McCartney first met Stevie Wonder, after the latter’s live performance at the club on the 3rd February 1966.

During its heyday in the mid 1960s bands such as The Gass were employed as the house band.

In 1973 The Scotch of St. James club reverted to its original role as a hostess club, and was named the Director’s Lodge.

The Club offered a fully licensed restaurant with live resident bands and cabaret acts during the evenings, with dining and dancing companions available.

As a world famous champagne hostess club with a reputation for class, discretion, and sensational women, it was a magnet to the great and good – and the venue for the next Christmas Party for “select” clients, none of whom declined the invitation.

As previously, the itinerary was to meet at about 12.30 allowing an hour for drinks at the bar before going downstairs to dine at about 13.30. Drinks at the bar went very well, but we were quickly joined by a number of young ladies that I hadn’t invited, but who were welcomed by my clients – so much so that they invited them all to the meal!

And so we all trooped downstairs and to this day I distinctly remember sitting near the middle of a long table with my back to the wall and the staircase on my right. All was going extremely well when from upstairs one could hear an agitated voice saying “where is he?” followed by footsteps on the staircase.

A lady I didn’t know leant over the bannister rail, and with her right hand thrust out she shouted, “ You, yes you John Davies, you should be ashamed of yourself inviting my husband to an establishment like this, you disgusting man.” and turned round and stomped off upstairs.

I looked round the table and everyone had open mouths as if frozen in time, followed by giggles and laughter. I meekly asked who the lady was only to find out it was Robert Noortman’s wife.

There were no more Christmas parties!

 

ADDENDA

In March 2014 the club was reopened as “The Scotch of St James” and has once again become the new fashionable night club frequented by the rich and famous, including Kate Moss, Sofia Coppola and Benicio del Toro, Suki Waterhouse, Cara Delevingne, Su Pollard, Debbie McGee, Alan Titchmarsh, Georgia Jagger, Timmy Mallett, Roger De Courcey and Edie Campbell – to name but a few!

Scotch of St. James

The club has also attracted pop stars such as Harry Styles, Plastic Bertrand and Rita Ora and hosted parties for fashion houses including Stella McCartney.

Rihanna and Harry Styles at Scotch of St. James

 

Copyright John Davies