Epicurus - The Fine Art of Dining - 1908
Probably no philosopher in the history of the world has been so widely misunderstood as Epicurus. The actions of persons ignorantly proclaiming themselves to be his followers have repeatedly confused the name of Epicurus with proceedings and doctrines which he would, so far from advocating, have openly disavowed.
Things have been done in his name, institutions and schemes originated, which have no more direct connection with Epicurus than has the late Queen Anne with the doings and writings of Mr. George Bernard Shaw.
One, therefore, hesitates to employ his name as an epithet descriptive of the character of any modern place or people. These can seldom be justly described as Epicurean.
But occasionally the case arises when something appears so self-evidently Epicurean in construction and design that the old philosopher’s name is absolutely forced from one’s lips as the only exact and illuminative word to describe its true inner character.
It may be sincerely said that such a case arises with the new Gaiety Restaurant in the Strand. Pedants and poets might shrink from associating a modern restaurant with the philosophy of Epicurus, but those who regard life and letters with a saner and broader vision will recognize with pleasure that the entire scheme of the new Gaiety illustrates and, in its own province, embodies the Epicurean ideal. It is a true temple to Epicurus; a place wherein one can find complete self-realization in the enjoyment of the perfect moment.
“Where shall we dine?” is a question that must, again and again, arise to puzzle both the visitor to London and the resident therein. Of places wherein, the hungry mortal may eat to appease the physical cravings of hunger there are enough and to spare in this great capital of ours. But to eat is not to dine.
Couple Having Dinner © 1912 Good Housekeeping
Dining is a fine art, of which the mere satisfying of appetite is an important part indeed, but one that is far from being the whole. For dinner, as De Quincey has well observed, is not only the principal meal of the day, and therefore the meal of hospitality, but it also involves “the spirit of festal joy and elegant enjoyment, of anxiety, laid aside, and of honorable social, pleasure put on like a marriage garment.”
Moreover, again to quote the same author, we, like the Romans, have discovered that the true purpose of dinner is to throw the grace of intellectual enjoyment over an animal necessity, and to relieve and to meet by a benign antagonism the toil of brain incident to high forms of social life.
The Question Answered
Now, it will be clear why the question in the above paragraph is not so readily answered as the unthinking might at first suppose; or, rather, could not be so readily answered but a short time back. But now the answer is quite easy.
At the Gaiety Restaurant in the Strand, the physical, intellectual, and aesthetical requirements of the true diner are catered for with fine skill and appreciative sympathy.
This famous house has recently been placed under the management of Messrs. J. Lyons and Co. Their name is a household word for excellence in catering wherever English is spoken. Messrs. Lyons realizing to the full, as Lecky so admirably puts it in his “History of European Morals,” that “Increased cultivation almost always produces a fastidiousness which renders necessary the increased elaboration of our pleasures,” have caused the Gaiety Restaurant to be redecorated and refurbished, and introduced such changes as are calculated to make it not only the most beautiful, but the most comfortable restaurant in town.
Concert of Fine Music
Every evening during dinner at the Gaiety Restaurant the sweetest of music is discoursed. Instrumental selections are varied by vocal items, rendered by vocalists of the highest merit.
For the civilized man, it is important that his meal should be such as will please his palate, be easy of digestion, and thereby perform its function of maintaining his bodily strength.
But this is not everything. His higher instincts must be gratified. And nowhere can this ideal be more amply realized than in this restaurant, in a noble apartment, a temple to the aesthetic.
So bright, so beautiful is the place that one is constrained to exclaim: “All is daintiness, elegance, repose.” Whilst evening dress is optional, the ladies of the family, for whom dining out has a very social attraction, will be happy to learn that the scheme of decoration and coloring has been adopted with an eye to its not impairing the charm of their toilettes, to which, indeed, it forms a most harmonious background.
The Grill Room
Immediately below the restaurant is the grill room. It has now its own cloakroom and is entered through a pleasant lounge, where members of a party can wait for one another in comfortable ease.
White is the prevailing color of the walls here, with a green and gold frieze; the lighting has been rearranged and increased, and now no brighter, and more cheerful grill room is to be found. Here good old English fare prevails.
Chops and steaks and the Primest of joints, roasted to a turn in open fires, are served. Any guest wishing to see this fine old English cooking in actual operation is invited to visit the roasting kitchen.
The grill room prices have been rectified and reduced so that they are now on that moderate scale which has become associated with the name of Lyons.
An orchestra has been installed here and plays a well-selected programme throughout the day. In addition to these strikingly handsome public rooms, the Gaiety is remarkable for the number, variety, and elegance of its private rooms for parties and its banqueting halls.
For larger parties and public banquets, the stately Georgian Hall is unrivaled. It will comfortably dine 250 guests. It is of the same dimensions as the restaurant and looks strikingly attractive in its new decoration of cream and old gold. It has a spring floor and is convertible into a perfect ballroom.
Filled with “fair women and brave men,” this apartment, with its tasteful electric lighting scheme, provides a spectacle of rare beauty, while the sitting-out facilities are worthy of those afforded for dancing.
The Home Atmosphere
But throughout the entire establishment the one controlling idea that governs the conception of the new restaurant, and the actual realization of that conception in the daily routine and the general arrangements of work and order, is the idea of family life.
In so many sumptuous and fashionable restaurants and even hotels, the atmosphere of home life is dissipated. The visitor is somehow made to uncomfortably realizing that he is but a traveler; that his sojourn at the place where he is dining is but momentary; that he is practically entertained on sufferance, and only tolerated for the fact that he is expected to discharge his bill. It is this feeling of estrangement that has for so long kept the average British citizen, whose ideal of comfort is the ideal of home, out of the public restaurants.
But in the New Gaiety, he will find that the one anxiety of the management has been to preserve the home atmosphere and to cater for family life and family parties before considering any other interest.
Here is an establishment which, whether for its appointments or its cooking, need fear no comparison either at home or abroad; one that worthily upholds the claims of London to be not only the heart of the political and commercial world but to rank first also among the world’s pleasure cities.
And when in the fullness of time a new Buckle shall arise to philosophize upon the growth of our latter-day civilization, he will assuredly dwell upon the change that has come over us in the matter of dining. And, summing up in a sentence that complex evolution, he will write: “The English used to feed; now, they dine."
"The Epicurean Temple - An Innovation: The Fine Art of Dining," in T.P.'s Weekly, London: Hodder & Stoughton, Vol. XII, No. 314, Friday, 13 November 1908, p. 605.