The Arch, The Pillars of Hercules, Manette Street

27 Jan

IMG_0399Every London twat worth his salted cashew nuts needs a Soho “HQ”; for years, mine was the Glasshouse pub on Brewer Street, a genuinely disgusting branch of the Samuel Smith chain. My friends and I went because the beer was cheap, and you could sit there all day with a book without attracting disapproving looks from other patrons.

About a year ago, Sam Smith’s hoiked up their prices, and we called time on The Glasshouse; we could no longer see it as a thrifty home-from-home, rather a dusty, stinking boozehole that even Keith Talent would have turned his nose up at. I began occasionally frequenting The French House on Dean Street, a fantastic pub, but one that carried too much boho-baggage to ever be considered as a base of operations. After experiments with The Dog & Duck (Bateman Street & Frith Street), The Crown (Brewer Street, again) and The Toucan (Carlisle Street), we settled on The Pillars of Hercules, at the top of Greek Street. The appeal lay not in the cheap booze (although I’d be lying if I dismissed that entirely), nor in the subtle stench of decay that wafts from every fibre of its faded carpets (ditto); nope, the X-factor came courtesy of Christopher Petit’s deranged 1994 novel Robinson:

…we first met on the corner of Manette Street one evening as night fell. Almost immediately we lost the person who had introduced us, a feckless and charming young man in the film business. Robinson cocked his head towards the arch at the end of the street to see if I was going to go his way. I nodded and we fell into step. We passed into Greek Street under the archway that was to become our favourite entrance to the area because it was like a border-post, the crossing-point where obligations could be left behind.’

As you can (vaguely) see in the photo above, the arch described by Petit’s narrator, Christo, carries a sign for The Pillars of Hercules, which abuts it to the left of the image. Although there is no public access to the rooms above the archway, the pub could be thought of as a sort of sentry-box to Petit’s ‘border-post’, a customs house that serves as a tourist office for the grottier end of Soho.

Later on in the novel, Christo and the irredeemably corrupt character (think Orson Welles reprising his roles in The Third Man and Touch of Evil simultaneously) of the title decide to follow a drunken couple from the De Hems on Dean Street, up Greek Street as far as the arch:

Twenty or thirty yards ahead of us, the couple turned right into Manette Street (where Robinson and I had first met). We went through the arch to find the man retching copiously over some railings, and the woman flat on the pavement, skirt ridden up over her knees, one shoe dangling, eyes fluttering. I watched the man as he dry-heaved, prelude to a second bout of vomiting. As his buttocks clenched with each spasm, the wallet in his hip pocket nudged into view, there for the taking, as was the woman. Robinson was assuming command. I urgently wanted to crack the vomiting man’s teeth with my shoe, to catch him full force as he bowed to retch, snapping his head back so the puke shot out of his mouth in a backward arc. Jesus, aren’t I the fucking dandy? Robinson was helping the woman to her feet, and ordered me to find a cab. Ah fuck you too, I thought, and slouched off to the end of the street, but there weren’t any in the Charing Cross Road then… When I got back, Robinson and the woman had done a bunk. Where the fuck were they? The man was still clinging to the railings… I told him to gaze up at the stars, it would make him feel better, but when he did, he lost his footing and sat down on his arse with a bump and looked so surprised I didn’t have the gall to kick him in the mouth as I’d promised myself.’

So, there we go- a (very) minor literary landmark. There are worse reasons to frequent a pub, I suppose…

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