London's literary haunts



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  • Bedford, 10-11 Great Piazza, Covent Garden

    Mentioned in Tobias Smollett’s first novel ‘The Adventures of Roderick Random’ in 1748, the Bedford became a centre of wit in the 1750s and was frequented by Henry Fielding, William Hogarth and Oliver Goldsmith, who were members of a gaming club based in its parlour. The Bedford survived until 1858.

    The Moka, 29 Frith Street

    Opened in 1953 by Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, the Moka was the first Soho café with its own espresso machine. Quentin Crisp described the shifting clientele as ‘bookies and burglars, actresses and artisans, poets and prostitutes’. William Burroughs subjected the Moka to ‘para-psychic bombardment’ after being provoked by what he claimed was discourteous service and a poisoned cheesecake. He stood just outside the café playing ambient tape recordings made inside. In August 1972 this led to altercations with the owners, who abandoned the premises in October of the same year.

    Café Royal, Regent Street

    Opened by French gambler Daniel Nicolas Thévenon in 1865, this heavily gilded and ornate venue followed the style of a grand Parisian café and was a favourite with members of the aesthetic movement: Oscar Wilde would lunch here at exactly one o’clock most days. In the early twentieth century it became a central meeting place for members of various, and variously competing, literary and artistic circles. Regular diners included Auguste Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence and John Buchan, whose Richard Hannay dines here in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps’ (1915).

    St James’s Street

    St James’s Street, the main thoroughfare between Piccadilly and Pall Mall, dates from the 1660s and became increasingly fashionable as St James’s Palace expanded. Following the introduction of Turkish coffee to England in 1652, many of London’s most significant coffee houses were established on St James’s Street; they developed into the gentlemen’s clubs we know today. The Tories went to the Cocoa Tree at number 64; the Whigs to St James’s at number 60, where Jonathan Swift wrote some of his letters to Esther Johnson, published posthumously as ‘Journal to Stella’ (1766). Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick became habitués. In response to Garrick’s proposal that they write each other’s epitaph, Goldsmith began work on ‘Retaliation: A Poem’ (1774) at St James’s. He died before completing it.

    Troubadour, 263-7 Old Brompton Road

    The Troubadour in Earl’s Court has hosted poetry events since it opened in 1954. Private Eye was first distributed here in 1961. It was also the site of Bob Dylan’s first London performances in December 1962.

    Don Saltero’s Coffee House, 18 Cheyne Walk

    Originally opened at 59 Cheyne Walk by former barber and valet James Salter, Don Saltero’s moved to number 18 in 1718 and remained a tavern until 1867. Dr Johnson was a regular customer, as were essayists Addison and Steele.

    Site of Page One Bookshop and Café, 53 West Ham Lane

    Performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah worked here from 1979 and started giving readings locally. His first book, ‘Pen Rhythm’ (1980), was published by Page One and quickly went into three editions. Page One closed in 1987. Most entries are taken from ‘London: City of Words’ by David Caddy and Westrow Cooper, published by Blue Island at £13.99.

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