Victorian London - Food and Drink - Night Houses and Supper Rooms - Supper Rooms

see also Oyster-houses - click here

Sir, - The observations of a "Lodger" in Norfolk-street are very much to the purpose for a temporary nuisance, but we, in York street, have greater reason of complaint. There exist, and have existed for years, several night-houses in this locality, the vocations of which commence at the closing of the theatres, and continue throughout the night. My room overlooks an open space, bounded by Brydges, Great Russell and Charles streets, and the disturbance exceeds all bounds. Dancing, singing, and eventually fighting, is the entertainment night after night, including the Sabbath morning. The inhabitants have represented the annoyance to the parish officers and the police, but can get no redress; yet the chief police office is on the spot, and even opposite to one of the houses. About 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning the unfortunate girls, left by their depraved companions, are turned out of these sinks, and become butts for the boys congregated at the newspaper distributors'; then commences a general hunt, and too frequently the unfortunate victim is driven half mad before a policeman can be found; she is then dragged to the station-house until the magistrates arrive, when the issue is soon known. Something ought to be done that this evil should be abated, or the houses in the vicinity will be altogether abandoned; for no person of any never could possibly remain with the jangling of pianos and dancing going forward all the night constantly.
    I am, Sir, your constant reader,
            York-street, Covent-garden, June 17

letter to The Times, June 18, 1845

Then there were the regular "night-houses," the company and the doings at which were, I imagine, equivalent to those at "The Finish," as depicted in the career of Tom and Jerry by George Cruikshank. There were many; but the two best known and most frequented were the Blue Posts and "Bob Croft's."
    The Blue Posts - not to be confounded with the well-known tavern of the same name in Cork Street - in the lower portion of the Haymarket, was, I suppose, an ordinary public-house, though it never struck any of its frequenters to regard it in that light. For a vast number of people it was the regular place of adjournment on the closing of the theatres and the dancing-halls. At midnight the passage from the outside door, the large space in front of the bar, the stairs leading to the upper rooms, the upper rooms themselves, were closely packed by a dense mass of men and women, through which no man but one could have forced his way. This was a waiter, a great favourite, owing to his imperturbable good-humour, and well known from his peculiar cry of "Mind the sauce, please! mind the sauce and the gravy!" with which he, heavily laden with supper-trays, would steer his way through the throng. The house, taken for what it was, was exceedingly well conducted; and though the conversation might have been more choice and more subdued, any rowdyism was at once put down. This was, in a measure, due to the respect felt by the regular frequenters for the landlord and landlady, an old Scotch couple named Dick, shrewd and business-like, but withal kindly, quiet, respectable people, who did many a good turn to some of their customers when out of luck. They lived at Hampstead, going up there in the early morning, coming down into London late at night; and I often thought of the strange contrast between their daylight existence, among their flowers and birds, in fresh air and perfect quiet, and the thick atmosphere reeking with spirits and tobacco, the roar and din and confusion of the strange company in which their nights were passed.
    "Bob Croft's" was a much later house, and one of a different stamp, though he too lived in the daytime in the country, in a pretty cottage at Kingston Hill. He was a burly, red-faced, jolly-looking fellow, in a white waistcoat, not without humour of a very broad kind, and famous for much undiluted repartee. When the balloon in which Albert Smith and others ascended from Vauxhall came to grief, and Albert was spilt into the road, he was picked up by Croft, who used to narrate the story as a strange meeting of two celebrated characters. Bob Croft's daughter married a baronet, and afterwards appeared with fair success on the stage.

Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences, 1885
[chapter on 1847-1852]

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

    Supper-Houses: Simpson's Divan, Strand; Wilton's, Great Ryder Street, St. James's; the Albion, Drury Lane; Evans's, Covent Garden; the Coal Hole, Strand; the Cyder Cellars and Rule's, Maiden Lane; Duboury's, Heming's, the Hotel de l'Europe, Scott's, and Quisen's, in the Haymarket; Dr. Johnson's, the Cock, the Rainbow, and Dick's, in Fleet Street.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

Suppers. — “Legislature’s harsh decree,” as Mr. H. S. Leigh has it, and the late hours at which theatrical managers close their houses, have almost had the effect of ousting supper from its old position as a cheery public meal. Suppers of course, can still be had in public but there is generally, and certainly after twelve o’clock, an uncomfortable feeling that the proceedings are in some way obnoxious to the law, and, as the minutes go by, the uneasiness of the head waiter is apt to damp the spirits of the convives. It is under the fostering shadow of the theatres that the supper-house still flourishes. The Albion, Covent Garden, opposite Drury-lane Theatre; the Gaiety, the Criterion, and the St James’s Hall Restaurants; the Cafe de l’Europe, adjoining the Haymarket Theatre; Epitaux’s in Pall Mall-east; and the Pall Mall Restaurant, all have a specialty for suppers. Most of the oyster houses can also be relied upon for a good midnight meal. The effect of the early closing Act, and one perhaps not contemplated by its promoters, has been the establishment of an enormous number of minor clubs, whose principal business is transacted at night. It by no means follows that the Londoner who is turned out of his tavern or restaurant goes home to bed. On the contrary, he is much more likely to adjourn to his club, where he can—and does— enjoy himself until the small hours grow large again. It may be added that the rules of many of these clubs are easy, and their committees kind. Little difficulty need therefore be apprehended inobtaining admission to one or other of these quasi taverns.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879