Café Royal Contents for Bonhams Auction

Bonhams has announced that it has been appointed to sell elected contents from the Café Royal, London. Over 120 lots from this historic establishment will go under the hammer on Tuesday 20 January 2009 at Bonhams Knightsbridge salerooms.

cafe-royal.jpgEstablished in 1865, regulars of the Café Royal over the years include Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, Sir Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher, Virginia Woolf, Muhammad Ali and Yul Brynner.

The doors to the Café Royale will close forever on Monday 22 December 2008 following the announcement that it is to be turned into a five star hotel. Viewing for the sale will take place before Christmas at the Café Royale on Sunday 21 December, from 9am to 12 noon and Monday 22 December 2008, from 9am to 9pm.

The sale includes a wide range of items from the Café Royal, from humidors and brandy caskets from its legendary cellars to the opulent Venetian chandeliers which hang in the Napoleon suite. Also included is the Café Royal’s original boxing ring, which has been used at many of the black tie boxing events held over the years.

Charlie Thomas, Head of Knightsbridge Furniture, says “ Building on the success of the Savoy sale last year Bonhams is delighted to be selling the contents of the Café Royal. Bidders will have the opportunity to acquire a small piece of this iconic London institution”.

The Wilde days of the Café Royal

To the Bohemians of Victorian England the Café Royal was an oasis of French charm. As such it was a firm favourite with Oscar Wilde and his friends. The Café Royal formed the backdrop to some of the most dramatic events in Wilde’s life including his decision to sue the Marquis of Queensberry.

Absinthe was often Oscar’s drink of choice and he describes one evening sitting alone in the Café Royal drinking when he started to hallucinate. Oscar thought that the waiter, who was stacking chairs, was in fact watering the floor, covered in tulips, with a watering can.

Oscar often entertained guests at the Café Royal including his lover “Bosie”, Lord Alfred Douglas. Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, a notorious brute, abhorred his son’s relationship with Oscar. The only amiable meeting between Wilde and Queensberry took place in 1893 at the Café Royal over lunch. The Marquis was charmed by Oscar despite himself and was temporarily won over.

The truce was momentary however, and after Queensberry left his misspelt calling card at Wilde’s club -” for Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite” – Wilde decided to launch a libel case against him. When Wilde met his friends George Bernard Shaw and Frank Harris at the Café Royal, they desperately tried to persuade Oscar not to go to court. Oscar stormed out of the Café Royal and never set foot inside again.

Salacious details of Wilde’s private life entered the public arena during the trial and he was later convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. His time in prison broke his health and he died three years after his release.

If walls could talk…
The Café Royal was established in 1865 by Parisian wine merchant Daniel Nicolas who was on the run from a prison sentence imposed for bankruptcy in France. He arrived with only £5 in his pocket which he used to set up the Café Royal.

The Café Royal is the spiritual home of black tie dinner boxing in the UK. The original National Sporting Club founders, the Earl of Lonsdale and the fifth Marquis of Queensberry, who were keen patrons of the Café Royal, created the world famous Queensbury rules for boxing. The National Sporting Club’s boxing activities found a permanent home at the Café Royal in 1955.

In 1894 the Café Royal was the scene of an infamous murder. The night porter Marius Martin was found with two bullets in his head, the murder was never solved.

The Café was frequented by Edward VIII and George VI in the early part of the 20th Century. An entry in the waiter’s instruction book ran: ”Prince of Wales, Duke of York lunch frequently. Always plain food. No fuss”.

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