In 1863, a French wine merchant called Daniel Nicholas Thévenon and his wife Celestine arrived in England in a bid to escape the clutches of creditors in Paris. So began a story that grew out of bankruptcy and culminated in the creation of Café Royal, a London legend with a supreme reputation for novel atmosphere and pleasure in the centre of the West End.
By the end of the 19th Century the Café Royal was renowned as a truly remarkable and original establishment. French gourmet cuisine was introduced to the British capital for the first time and Café Royal quickly earned a reputation for being one of the greatest wine cellar in the world.
Throughout the ages, Café Royal was the epicentre of fashionable London. Welcoming famed patrons, from royalty and celebrity, to the creative and the notorious, Café Royal was an established and iconic landmark on London’s social scene, for over a century.
Frequented by writers and artists such as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, the conversations, inspirations and discussions at the Café were profound. Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, W B Yeats, Walter Sickert and James McNeill Whistler were all patrons.
The Café’s appeal widened, as did its clientele, in the beginning of the 20th Century. Distinguished figures such as Winston Churchill, Augustus John, D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Noël Coward, Jacob Epstein and Graham Greene were often seen dining there.
Royalty also took to the place, and the Prince of Wales, later to abdicate as Edward VIII in order to marry Mrs Simpson, and The Duke of York, later to become George VI, often took lunch at the Café, as latterly did Diana, Princess of Wales.
The magnetic appeal of the Café continued to the mid 20th Century. The sexy appeal of Brigitte Bardot, the romantic date of the bejewelled Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and unforgettable visits of music and sports celebrities such as Louis Armstrong and Muhammad Ali were all part of the Café routine.
Since 1951 the Café Royal became the home of the National Sporting Club, which held black-tie dinners before bouts. The original National Sporting Club founders, the Earl of Lonsdale and the fifth Marquis of Queensberry the originators the world famous Queensberry rules for boxing, were keen patrons of the Café Royal in its early days.
"The last supper", the famous retirement party of the iconic Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie's alter ego, was held at the Café Royal in 1973, hosted the biggest rock stars of the time, such as Mick Jagger, Lou Reed and many others.
Now Café Royal has reopened as a luxury hotel with 160 guestrooms and suites. As part of the Crown Estate’s plans to redevelop the southern end of Regent Street the property was acquired by The Set and closed in 2008. The closure was marked by an auction where many of the famous and unique curios and artefacts were sold. For over four years the property was cocooned while the radical restoration and redevelopment took place under the direction of David Chipperfield Architects.
Since the reopening in 2012, Café Royal hotel is once again a place to see and be seen.