In the year 1984 I was working in a steakhouse just off Oxford Street, not too far from Carnaby street. I was a young man and I was out enjoying my life after a few years of hard times. I would have hard times again but that’s another story.
The Steakhouse was called The Handsel Tavern (it’s a Five Guys now), it was located on Argyle Street just off Oxford Circus Tube Station. The street level was the Bar area with a standing bar area and table seating around the perimeter, downstairs was the Steak House bit.
Toward the front on the right as you entered from the street was a food bar serving fresh cooked meals everyday. The Chef was Spanish his name was Jose. He served fresh roasted chicken with rice and veggies and goat curry. The food was the best and fed me for a couple of years on and off while I worked there. He would fill the plates when the bar closed which it did every afternoon between 3pm, and 5:30 wartime hours.
During wartime the hours were reduced ( Defense of the Realm Act August 1914), so that people getting drunk might not affect the war effort, the hours at this time just hadn’t been changed yet.
The manager of the premises was at that time a Scotsman called Brian. (I withhold last names to protect the innocent)! He had a few scams going on at the time, as most food and bar food in regular Pubs was crap then. It was later that the food gig took off in pubs, as it was extra money for the landlord before the Brewery took all the profits. So Brian would buy large bottles of vodka and whiskey to add to the the optics so that he had extra cash coming in.
I was the bar manager so I handled the cellar tasks which was primarily getting the Real Ale ready to serve. The other barmen, (no women for no reason other than there were no women. In the Argyle down the street there was a bunch of barmaids (again another story)!)
were Patrick (Jamaica), Nigel (London), Derek (Glasgow),
Eugene (Belfast, North Ireland), and Myself (Clonmel, South Ireland).
So needless to say it was a good mix, we were all friends and had a blast! There was no tipping in England and wages were not great so we received drinks from the locals and as long as it was a half pint at a time we could enjoy the evening and be sociable. And that’s the way it was, it was a social life while working.
It was always hard to keep and get dishwashers for the steakhouse downstairs. So every so often I would have to go on a trip to Leicester Square in search of a homeless person who might want a job for the evening. We paid cash and a meal, it was a good deal. In this way we helped a person down on their luck and he helped by washing the dishes for the restaurant. Of course this did lead to having some real characters working nights.
I do remember one guy was very proud I picked him for nights work, he even had a certificate stating he was legally sane. I of course told him how jealous I was as I didn’t have one myself!
I remember another sparkling character who collected all the empty drink from the glasses that came in and made himself a big glass of alcohol mix to get himself through the evening. Actually this was more common than I would care to say!
When I didn’t have to acquire a person from the streets it was still a character doing this kind of work. I had a Doctor from Africa who wasn’t licensed to practice and while he was trying to get that sorted he worked where he could as a dish washer. I had another African who was a chiefs son. He was a very proud man and used to help me by making salads. This was quite a while ago but I hope they found their happiness wherever they they looked for it.