Historic Café Royal
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. This was just the beginning of the story, click below to read our very own Cafe Royal Times, a collection of stories dating back more than a century.
Daniel Nicholas Thévenon
Daniel Nicholas Thévenon anglicised his name to Daniel Nicols. Within a couple of years he had conceived and established the place on London’s Regent Street he called the Café Royal. Daniel and Celestine had a son-in-law and it was he who took the family business to new heights. By the end of the century the Café Royal was renowned as a truly remarkable and original establishment with what was considered at one point to have the greatest wine cellar in the world.
The greatest wine cellar in the world
Early in its history, Daniel Nicholas sent for his cousin, Eugène Delacoste, from Burgundy. Delacoste had a reputation as an expert in selecting the best appellations and combined his passion with his impeccable palate to handpick each bottle for Café Royal’s wine cellar. This carefully built cellar was, at one point, widely recognised to be the greatest in the world.
Paying homage to the Café Royal’s history, the hotel continues to offer an exceptional list featuring a selection of wines from both the old and new world, with particular focus on French regions.
Conceived by John Nash in the early 1800’s, Regent Street has a unified design, unusual for London. Originally called New Street, the Georgian thoroughfare was dedicated to the Prince Regent, who later became George IV. When the Café Royal opened at its southern end in 1865, the now famous sweeping, colonnaded Nash terrace was still relatively novel and continues to be a signature feature in central London.
Throughout the ages, Café Royal was the epicentre of fashionable London. Welcoming famed patrons, from royalty and celebrity, to the creative and the notorious, it has been an established and iconic landmark on the capital’s social scene, for over a century.
Where great minds come to discuss great ideas
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.
Distinguished figures such as Winston Churchill, Augustus John, D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Noël Coward, Jacob Epstein and Graham Greene were also often seen.
From rock stars to royalty
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 into the mid-20th century. The sexy charm 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.
In 1973 David Bowie famously retired his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, with a star studded party, dubbed ‘The Last Supper’. Guests included the biggest rock stars of the time, such as Mick Jagger, Lou Reed and many others.
In 1951 Café Royal became the home of the National Sporting Club, holding black tie dinners before bouts often frequented by Muhammad Ali. The original National Sporting Club founders, the Earl of Lonsdale and the fifth Marquis of Queensberry also laid down their set of boxing rules, ‘The Queensberry Rules for Boxing’ here in 1867.
As the spiritual home of boxing and as a nod to this profound heritage, the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre offers Box Fit and Fight Club one-to-one or group classes.
The Café Royal VIPPs - Very Important Past Patrons
Since its inception, the Café Royal has long been the place to be seen, and if the walls of this Grade II listed building could talk, the stories would be inspirational, magical, and most importantly, endless. Countless figureheads of society have walked through the doors of the Café Royal, from politicians and writers to musicians and royalty, each with their own stamp on history.
Some of our most iconic past patrons continue to inspire the Hotel Café Royal even today, their legacies a consistent reminder of our illustrious past and foundations as a London landmark. To us, these individuals are more than just historical icons, but rather, our VIPPs – our Very Important Past Patrons, that is.
Our VIPPs, from left to right: Rodin, Sean Connery, Diana, Princess of Wales, David Bowie, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammed Ali, Louis Armstrong, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf.
Auguste Rodin – One of the earliest known patrons of this historic locale in London, Rodin’s influence on art and culture continues today. Most famously, Rodin found himself at the Café Royal to celebrate a banquet in honour of his unveiling of St. John the Baptist at the nearby Victoria & Albert Museum – alongside a litany of high-profile guests and art students.
Sean Connery – You may not think of James Bond at the Café Royal, given the venues distance from the spy’s notable headquarters in London, but the first James Bond, Connery, was no stranger to the Café Royal, attending events for friends and contemporaries alike within the halls of the then café.
Diana, Princess of Wales – One of the Café Royal’s truly royal patrons, the Princess of Wales frequented many occasions at the Café Royal, and was once famously filmed exiting our doors to a raucous, excited crowd, each of them eager to catch a glimpse of the loved royal.
David Bowie – Musician and icon extraordinaire, Bowie shifted the culture of pop music with his persona Ziggy Stardust, and in July 1973, Bowie retired the persona at a concert, after which he returned to the Café Royal for a star-studded party to send it off in style with friends including Lulu, Lou Reed, and a young Mick Jagger.
Winston Churchill – One of Britain’s most highly regarded Prime Ministers, Churchill could often be seen at the Café Royal, dining with his political contemporaries and entertaining guests, and swiftly became a frequent patron during his career.
Elizabeth Taylor – The Café Royal became a haunt for the actors and actresses of Hollywood, including Mia Farrow, Laurence Harvey and Cary Grant, but it’s Elizabeth Taylor who left her mark on the Café Royal the most, with a tongue-wagging rumour that she once met with Richard Burton for a date at the Café Royal…
Muhammad Ali – The Café Royal had long been a patron of the arts, but in tandem with the National Sporting Club, soon became the go-to place for boxing matches and athletes. Such athletes included the great Muhammad Ali, who once charmed onlookers as he fed his daughter Hana during a press conference.
Louis Armstrong – With such a cultural presence, the Café Royal came to be the go-to place for every type of musician, including the famed Louis Armstrong, who selected the Café Royal as his go-to destination for lunches and speeches.
George Bernard Shaw – Another of the Café Royal’s literary patrons, George Bernard Shaw was indeed a frequent guest in the dining halls, often holding court alongside his contemporaries as they jostled for literary excellence. Shaw soon became a close confidante of another VIPP, Mr. Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde – Possibly one of the Café Royal’s most famous patrons, Wilde was an integral part of the then-café, often holding court for his poetry, with countless stories retelling the events around his career centering on the Café Royal – some more infamous than others. Today, Wilde is commemorated in the historic Grill Room, which has been renamed the Oscar Wilde Lounge.
Virginia Woolf – Some of the world’s literary greats were patrons of the Café Royal, and even Charles Dickens hailed it as a place for those “who know how to order dinner”. To no-one’s surprise, Virginia Woolf was another trailblazing patron of the venue, her works and history resonating with individuals around the world to this very day for their feminist stance and clever prose.