London Wrap-up
Oxford Street on a busy Sunday afternoon. Photo: JH.
Sunday morning we headed over to the Wallace Collection on Manchester Square. Originally the collection of the 4th Marquess of Hertford who, when he died in 1870, left it as well as all of his personal and real estate to Richard Wallace, his illegitimate son. The estate and the collection were enormous.

The marquess owned a mansion on Manchester Square (the house originally belonged to the Duke of Manchester), a famous house on the Bois de Boulogne which was built for and owned by the Count d’Artois, a brother of Louis XVI. He also had a very large apartment on the rue Lafitte and country estates.

After the French Revolution, the furniture and art in Versailles was sold at auction. A sizeable portion of it ended up as property of the 4th marquess. When Wallace inherited, he moved a great deal of it to the house in London and continued augmenting the collection.

When he died, it went to his widow who in turn left the majority of it to the British nation. A smaller but very valuable portion was also left to her husband’s secretary, John Murray Scott, who had looked after her and her business interests devotedly for many years.

Anglophiles will find it interesting that when Scott died,
he left his fortune to his mistress, Lady Sackville of Knole, mother of of the novelist and poet, Vita Sackville-West, mother of British writer and publisher Nigel Nicholson. The story of the generations of players who are related to this stupendous collection is fascinating but too long to go into here right now.

The Collection much of which was collected by the 4th Marquess was so extensive and impressive that an American named Henry Clay Frick was inspired to build something like it — which he did, and which now exists as The Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York, which contains some items that found their way to The Frick via the marquess’ famous accumulation.
Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection. A quick furtive look by JH at one of the main galleries, the paintings of which are all under Crown Copyright.

From the Wallace Collection, we moved on to the British Museum, where I had never been, although JH had. Also gigantic and full of amazing antiquities some of which dates back hundreds of thousands of years.

Clockwise from top left: The front exterior of the British Museum; The Library; The new interior gallery at the museum.
Late Sunday afternoon we had a drink in the Claridge’s Bar with Renaud Gregoire who is the manager of food and drinks at the hotel. People in the hotel business, I had already learned, are, like artists and writers, born to their business which tolerates nothing but complete commitment. Young Renaud was a perfect example. He grew up in Belgium, studied hotel management and when he graduated, he got in his car and came to England with the goal of working for a top hotel.

He started at one hotel here in London and then came to Claridge’s where he’s been for the past six or seven years. He came to the right place because Claridge’s was going through a transformation, moving from the early 20th into the early 21st century.
There was a conscious change in attitude of management who were clearly interested in attracting a new clientele. As food and drink manager, Renaud took the corner restaurant in the hotel which had a long tradition of serving not only guests but Londoners for decades and decided to turn it into a bar emphasizing expensive champagnes. At that time, the hotel had no bar and the idea was not only revolutionary but revolting to a lot of the old traditionalist clientele. Furthermore it was a gamble because of the champagne menu.

We visited the bar for something to eat the first night we were here. The menu is very tasty, the atmosphere is very fresh and lively (it was packed everytime we were there including last night — a quiet night in London). Renaud’s idea became a great success and Claridge’s bar is now a destination in London for connoisseurs of great champagnes as well as people who like a lively, friendly atmosphere. We dropped in several times, always to get something to eat (and sometimes for a drink, but also just for tea or sparkling water).

Renaud also inaugurated classes for connoisseurs. This past weekend, Mr. Krug, the champagne maker gave a small class in champagnes. Where did they get the audience? I asked Renaud. “From the internet.” That reply articulates the renaissance and re-emergence of the hotel’s reputation as one of the top hotels in London and perhaps the world.
Left: Claridge's manager of food and beverages Renaud Gregoire
Right: One of Renaud's most innovative and most successful additions, the £85 half-bottle of Krug in all of the hotel room's minibars.

Renaud's latest project is an extensive revamping of the hotel's wine list which will include a selection of 250 wines.
At the end of our conversation, I asked this very young and clearly able man his age. 29; 30 on May 24th. I knew he was young but was surprised that he was SO young for a man with his position in a great hotel. He was unfazed by my surprise because, as he explained, he is not the youngest. The manager of room service is 24, and another manager is 28. I mentioned to him the change in atmosphere that I’d detected. He told me it was intended and the result is great success.

Last year Claridge’s had their greatest year in their history. And this past January and February, the hotel had its greatest first two months in the history of the hotel. Fresh and daring with a constant eye on the hotel’s legendary reputation and traditions.

Later that evening after work,
we went back downstairs to get a bite to eat in the Reading Room (where a number of the celebrity portraits in yesterday’s Diary are hung). In the lobby we ran into Kathy and Rick Hilton who also were in London for the Prince’s Trust dinner at Buckingham Palace, as well as interior designer Geoffrey Bradfield, who also went to the dinner. Geoffrey was also in town for an Architectural Digest shoot of one of his design installations. He was also staying at the hotel. The Hiltons, who love Claridge’s were staying, however, at the Hilton.
The Foyer with its new spectacular Dale Chihuly chandelier composed of 2000 seperate pieces — assembled in the hotel by the artist and symbolizing Claridge's successful emergence of the new with the old
Dinner in the Reading Room
The Foyer emptied out at midnight on Sunday night

Yesterday it was lunch at the Savile Club with Peter Evans, the man who wrote “Nemesis” (click to order). What? You haven’t read “Nemesis”? You’re getting to be in the minority. The book which came out more than a year ago, maybe two, is a huge seller although from word of mouth. Only three days ago, someone asked me if I’d read it — which of course I had (and reviewed it on these pages). It’s a can’t-put-down account of the life and the worlds of Jacqueline Onassis, Aristotle Onassis and all those satellites of their glittering orbits. It is also shocking (at least to some of us) and in some ways incredible.

The question everyone has asked on finishing: “Do you think it’s true?” Peter Evans who spent ten years on the book and who had worked with Aristotle Onassis until Jacqueline came along and put a stop to that, believes it is. It is not so incredible to me. Look at Shakespeare. Look at the world we live in today; look at what happened to so many of the players in Evans book.

After our lunch (grilled filet of sole — excellent) served with cauliflower, peas and potatoes, followed by a delicious bread and butter pudding better even then the one my mother used to make, JH and I took a walk to find a bookstore. I wanted to buy a book that got a great review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review — “A Night At the Majestic” about a dinner that took place in a hotel restaurant in Paris in 1906 attended by Picasso, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, James Joyce and ... Marcel Proust! It sounds like fiction but better than ... it was true.

On our way walking down Bond Street we spotted the Graff store where its windows was stopping so many passersby, just as they do on Madison Avenue in New York. Graff is an amazing story, dealing some of the largest, highest quality diamonds in the world, famous for their colored stones — yellow diamonds, pink diamonds (they had one on exhibit at Maastricht) and blue diamonds. Someone had told me a story about a man who had stopped by the London Graff one day intending to buy a blue diamond. Before he was finished, he bought the ring and then blue diamond earrings and then a necklace with a blue diamond pendant, and although his visit seemed almost on a whim, before he was finished he had spent $20 million! I have a feeling that’s not an unusual story for Graff, (who, I am very pleased to say, is advertiser on the New York Social Diary).

Above: Peter Evans at Saville Club on Brooke Street.

Right: Scenes from Graff's flagship store on Bond Street with Public Relations duo Zohra and Fiona out in front.
Last night another quick delicious dinner at Claridge's Bar, always accompanied by a warm welcome from Bronk (below right), Assistant Manager of the bar.
Goodnight London from the terrace



March 21, 2006, Volume VI, Number 48
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com