Sometimes when you look at a block of buildings you think to yourself, that doesn’t look right. One block that I noticed was in Great Portland Street.
The imposing building on the far left was previously a bank and now a Post Office. The characterless office block far right shouts post war redevelopment, it’s the two in the middle that interested me.
Of these two it’s the one with the arched window that holds the key to what explains what’s happened in this block.
Looking at a street map of 1910 the block on Great Portland Street is divided up into seven separate properties. The Bank on the corner of Mortimer Street was the London & South Western Bank, Percival Christopher Galloway it’s manager at the time. Next door to the bank was Fruiterer Thomas Miles and next to him Horace Brown, who traded in artificial flowers. Then came a block of three buildings and on the corner with Little Portland Street was the Portland Arms, George Arthur Shurey the Landlord. It was the block of three that was of most interest.
These buildings which numbered 42-48 were the home of Pagani’s Restaurant owned and run by Signor Mario & Giuseppe Pagani, who had begun their business in what was to become Thomas Miles fruit shop. Forty years later their empire had expanded to take in most of the block itself and had incorporated the Portland Arms.
Pagani’s was quite a bohemian venue popular with musicians and entertainers which was probably helped by the close proximity of Queen’s Hall, where the Proms used to be held until the event was moved to the Royal Albert Hall. The restaurant boasted a wall of over 5,000 signatures from patrons such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, painter James Whistler and composer Pietro Mascagni which can now be seen at the Museum of London. Jerome K Jerome dined there with J.M.Barrie for 2/- a head and apparently both got rather drunk on several bottles of Chianti.
I found a diary entry for a Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, who in 1899 took a friends wife (!) to dine at Pagani’s “At eight o’clock on Sunday I was waiting for Mrs. Tota in the arched entrance which is one of the distinctive features of the modern Pagani’s. Glazed grey tiles front the whole of the ground floor, the rest of the building being red brick, and the deep entrance arches are supported by squat little blue pillars. The curve of the arches are set with rows of electric light, which give the little restaurant the appearance of having been illuminated for a fete every night.” He went on to set out the menu, which he had chosen with the help of Giuseppe Pagani.
Filets de sole Pagani.
Tournedos aux truffés.
Haricots verts sautés. Pommes croquettes.
Perdreau Voisin. Salade.
Soufflé au curaçoa.
The filets of sole was a house speciality with the filets coated in a white wine, cream and mushroom sauce with the addition of mussels , sprinkled with parmesan cheese. With this the couple drank two pints of Verve Clicquot champagne. Helpfully Newman-Davis even wrote down the itemised bill. Bread and butter, 4d.; hors d’oeuvre, 6d.; soup, 1s. 6d.; fish, 2s.; joint, 2s.; game, 5s.; vegetables, 1s.; sweets, 1s.6d.; ices, 1s.; salad, 10d.; wine, 14s.; coffee, 1s.; liqueurs, 2s.6d.; total, £1 : 13 : 2 (if monetary calculators are to be believed would equate to around £199). Unfortunately the diary entry does not disclose if this was all part of a seduction, if it was I hope the couple left plenty of time for their digestion to settle down.
So why is the restaurant and the grand building that housed it no longer there? To take a great non judgemental line I once heard from a Berlin tour guide it was “damaged from the air“. As the bomb map below shows it was so badly damaged it had to be demolished.
After seeing this on the map it left me scratching my head. The map clearly shows the bank on the corner and then the two properties before the badly damaged restaurant. I had made the assumption that the arched window was all that remained of the original Pagani’s building, but it looks as it has been reclaimed and used to clad the building next door which had once been the site of the original restaurant in 1871. Whether this was a deliberate nod to the origins of the restaurant by the architects it would be difficult to ascertain, but I like to think that’s the case.