Another London Landmark Becomes A Chain



Kettner’s restaurant in Soho was opened by Auguste Kettner, the chef to Napoleon III, and became one of the first French restaurants in London. It boasted among its regulars Lillie Langtry, Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie and Bing Crosby.

Everyone in Soho has a favourite memory of the place. For my business partner’s 40th birthday I hired the upstairs suite and threw a party in which I presented him with his favourite movie – ‘Harold & Maude’, handed over to him by the star of the film, Bud Cort, whom I had secretly invited.

Kettner’s turned into an admirably low-cost pizza bar with singing waiters, but kept its excellent champagne bar and survived with an independent spirit thanks to its low prices. It had continued for nearly 150 years, but this year it closes that chapter of its life.

It’s been bought out by Soho House, the once-fashionable and formerly exclusive club chain that has become the All Bar One of membership clubs. I had long ago resigned in disgust because I’d had enough of nights surrounded by shrieking PRs and coked-up print reps on the pull. To be fair it’s not the club’s fault that they attracted the kind of people you’d pay to be kept away from, but somehow the clubhouses gained a reputation for always being filled with toxic media twats.

So Kettner’s is to become another part of Soho house, and I’m sure they’ll do a sympathetic job on the redesign, but of course the prices will now soar. Soho House is currently in the process of colonising one of the quietest and most overlooked squares in Barcelona, where I often have dinner at its sole cafe. The locals give a resigned shrug that means The English. After all, one of the biggest and most successful tapas chains in the city, Taller de Tapas, is an English creation.

Still, there’s something depressing about chains at any level, the uniformity of food and drink, ambience and clientele that means another demographic has been serviced in a way that’s not good or bad – merely unmemorable. And Kettner’s loses its unique character to become another pricey part of that bland process.



4 comments on “Another London Landmark Becomes A Chain”

  1. Roger says:

    “To be fair it’s not the club’s fault that they attracted the kind of people you’d pay to be kept away from”

    It is with a membership club. By definition they decide who they’ll let in.

  2. Vivienne says:

    It must be really difficult these days to hold on to an individual business. Th chains have the ability to order in bulk, and have an overall employment/recruitment strategy that make competition so tough. After people have worked really hard to build something up and a huge offer of cash comes along, who wouldn’t be tempted? And then the money is in the hands of that 10% – or is it 1% now?

  3. John Griffin says:

    1% and falling. The inevitable trajectory of capital is towards oligopoly, the standardisation of product, the acquisition of all aspects of production, the artificial inflation of prices (vis power companies) and the depression of labour costs. Multiple layers of funding and holding leave the true owners very rich, very untouchable and very obscure.
    Become one of them! Join the 62! Or just be one of the other 6.5 BN. Or in the case of London, a piece of England owned by a lot of people who live elsewhere.
    Here endeth a very old lesson.

  4. Bee says:

    So sad!. I loved Kettners in the early 80s when it had a great atmosphere. Downstairs was always buzzing and I went to some excellent parties in the private rooms. The best and most scurrilous gossip in London could be heard in the lovely Ladies Powder Room. I suppose all the madly painted walls have gone as another unique place fades into a state of economy of chain scale.

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