Seventies Nostalgia

Monday, November 13, 2006

To See And To Be Seen

The most popular restaurants in the Seventies were places to see and to be seen in. The newly opened Langan’s Brasserie in Stratton Street, on the site of the old Coq D'Or, fitted this bill perfectly. Peter Langan, the alcoholic genius who created the restaurant, hosted preview dinners, leading up to the opening in 1976. The ambience was enticing, donated fine art splattered the walls, David Hockney designed the menus, but in those days, the food was the least interesting thing about the restaurant. It was the famous clientele that attracted the café society in droves. On one given weeknight, you could spot deranged members of the British aristocracy, Hockney, David Bailey, Jack Nicholson, Andy Warhol, The Shah of Persia, and President Gerald Ford munching away. (Statesmen were invariably encircled by tables of their security staff). Diners scoffed bangers and mash, while viewing the restaurant's visual froth, which included socialites, top models and their entourages of fashion designers and fashionable hairdressers.

Once the restaurant opened, if provincials booked a table, thinking they could star spot, they were shoved upstairs to 'Siberia', to ogle if they so wished, Patrick Procktor’s freshly painted mural of Venice. The top table, which Peter Langan reserved for his friends was near the entrance, next to one of the big windows in the restaurant. One of the main attractions of the restaurant was Peter himself, who thrived on being an outrageously rude court jester. He revelled in verbally attacking his adoring customers, and behaved like a sexist pig towards his women victims. Funnily enough, trapped diners regarded it an honour if Peter descended on their tables and ruined their meals.

The Sculptor Peter Schleshinger drew a lovely portrait of me in the early Seventies, and the architect who bought it in order to scare his children loaned it to Langan’s. It was shoved at the far end of the restaurant near the library on the ground floor, which gave me a legitimate excuse to ‘see and be seen’, while I table hopped through the restaurant in order to view it, during my days as a gossip columnist. The characters in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies didn’t make a habit of going out to swanky restaurants. That’s because they were holed up in trendy cafes, modelled on the infamous Up All Night in Fulham Road, where wired partygoers used to come down from their drugs. ‘One fading afternoon, in a popular Knightsbridge watering hole, Alice's pounding head lay submerged in her triple expresso coffee (she had spent a tough night at The Igloo)’ is a quote from “Frantic” which illustrates the fad for all night cafes in the early Seventies. Food didn’t seem to be so popular in those days.

The fodder was definitely the least important thing about Langan’s, although the crème brûlée was divine. It was the best thing on the menu, and one needed a pickaxe to crack the crust. When I interviewed Jackie Collins re: her book “Hollywood Wives”, we consumed crème brûlée for our starter, main course and desert. And, no, we didn’t have the top table. We had the second top one!

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

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