The news today that one of London’s iconic restuarants, the Gay Hussar, is closing on June 21 will be a catalyst for a fight back.
The sad decision was announced by manager John Wrobel at the end of a very convivial lunch for Old Guardian hacks last week leading to today’s excellent article in the Observer by Rebecca Smithers.
Some less kind might say a fitting end for us retired or semi retired reprobates. But as she writes this has been a regular venue for Left wing plots and meetings between journos and sources. I myself confess that the odd confidential document might have been slipped into my hands before I left there after dining on herrings and soured cream and crispy duck with red cabbage.
The place was also the venue for Muchael Foot’s 90th birthday, a superb collection of political cartoons loaned by Martin Rowson featuring the great and not so good and it is not unknown for right wing dissenters to dine there. My last lunch there was with an independently minded Tory peer.
The wider issue which pushed its closure is globalisation and a fierce policy of raising business rates (rents automatically seem to follow) which is leading to the disappearance of many independent businesses and their replacement by franchised national chains.
The planned closure of the Gay Hussar follows the disappearance of the Gran Paradiso in Pimlico and Luigis in Aldwych. And it is not a problem confined to the capital. My local town, Berkhamsted, has lost the House of High Tea, a popular cafe which had a eye watering selection of brews for precisely the same reason- a tripling of the rent.
The decision by its conglomerate owners Corus Hotels appears to have taken place in Kuala Lumpur pushed by the big jump in rent prompted by the business rate rise.
However all is far from lost.
John Goodman, the energetic chair of the Goulash Co-operative, is riding to the rescue.
Ina an email sent out to the members of the co-operative last night ( I declare an interest I am a small investor), he says:
” At last our moment has come! The day for which we have all been waiting has unexpectedly arrived.
“We learned a few days ago that Corus, the owners of the Gay Hussar, intend to close the restaurant some time in the near future, despite still having four years to run on the lease, which is held by Corus subsidiary The Restaurant Partnership (TRP). Our understanding is the long suffering and loyal staff, who do so much to make the Gay Hussar what it is, have already met with HR managers.
“As your directors, we immediately called an emergency meeting for Monday 14th May to discuss our action and have been working on it intensively since then.
We understand that Corus/TRP has been in discussion with the landlord and has reached an arrangement for early termination of the lease. This will give the landlord vacant possession and they will therefore be looking for a new tenant.
“Two of our number, including our legal and property advisers, met the landlord’s representatives on 16 May to discuss their intentions. They told us the building was not for sale but they expressed interest in offering us a new lease to continue the operation of the Gay Hussar, albeit in an upgraded form. In such circumstances there are a huge number of questions to be answered, involving finance and the potential operation of the restaurant.”
He ends with a rallying cry:
“In due course, and if our plans make progress in the way we hope, we will re-open the Goulash Co-operative for additional and fresh investment and investors as we anticipate a good deal of interest. We would ask you to alert friends and family to join in this great venture to keep the Gay Hussar and to develop further its enormous potential.”
Let battle commence!