Wherever two or more Reuters people gather together they are sure to have a preferred neighbourhood watering hole. It may have been the redoubtable Mrs Moon’s, a grubby, nondescript bar in a draughty Fleet Street cellar whose strange mystique lay in its grim and charmless scruffiness and famously iron rule of its fierce, eponymous landlady; or Mulligan’s on a busy mid-town Manhattan corner of Seventh Avenue in New York where weekly paychecks were cashed by the jovial Irish bartenders more promptly and with far more grace than at any bank; or the legendary colonial-style FCC - the Foreign Correspondents’ Club - on Lower Albert Road in Central, Hong Kong, a second home for journalists in Asia to this day. Many are the unsung haunts in quieter, far-flung spots where correspondents swapped tales about the privations of assignments in hardship posts: the heat, the flies, the warm champagne.
Brian Williams*, former correspondent, editor and much-travelled bon vivant, was one of many who knew a few refuges from the rigours of the job. “One of the joys of working for Reuters was going to foreign lands and knowing that if you called the bureau they'd (in most cases) know the best little secret restaurant or beach or hang-out or bar or some such,” he recalled.
So, in response to a plea from the Digger for recommendations, here is a space where you can send details of your own haven of choice, past or present. Some of them may no longer serve though it’s likely that they live on in folk memory as the ghostly haunts of the tired and emotional in times past. Others may be new discoveries worth commending to colleagues.
* Brian Williams died on 7 February 2015 aged 69. ■
The most striking element in the illusion of Austrian Alps refuge from the civil war reality of tension on the streets of Beirut was the bleak personality of the owner of Myrtom House, a tall, thin man with cropped blond hair who was rumoured to have served as a model for an iconic Hitler Youth bust. He presided over the big timber bar with an air of gloom and foreboding and if you ever wanted a pessimistic viewpoint on the latest Middle East crisis, would provide a ready-made doomsday quote.
Even Reuters has written about it and despite a dwindling population of journalists in the former colony there is still a waiting list to join the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong, which once had a hotline from the Reuters office to the Main Bar, legends like the Naked Copper, and a loo with a view immortalised by John le Carré. All this, and more, has made the FCC world famous (in Hong Kong).
The foreign press corps' favourite watering hole in apartheid-era Johannesburg was a bar that began as a gold rush miners' shack, became a more upmarket bar and restaurant and then, as businesses fled the urban violence of downtown Jo'burg for the relative safety of the city's northern suburbs, reverted to little more than a shebeen. During the glory years, segregation (professional segregation, that is) extended to the econ/gennews staff.
It tasted like turpentine but local wine - yes, Afghan wine - was on offer for a succession of correspondents visiting Kabul in the days before the Taliban. The Intercontinental hotel, a watchpost on a hill and a comfortable refuge from the dust of the city, was a haven, a nest of spies and a hang-out for propagandists.
As dive bars go Mrs Moon's could scarcely go lower. Among its denizens a latter-day Hogarth might have found inspiration for a finely observed cartoon capturing the slightly seedy atmosphere and occasional air of subterranean mischief. When the doors closed for the last time after an epic day and night of strictly illicit drinking in the winter of 1984 (British pub opening hours in those days were more rigidly regulated), a little bit of Fleet Street, shabby, mystical and as beloved as a favourite pair of comfortable old shoes, disappeared.
Bankers and lawyers now occupy the upper floors of the building that was Reuters' headquarters for six decades. But at street level the memory of Paul Julius Reuter is evoked in pictures and there is even a Reuters room in the basement at Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Cellar Rooms. It's all a far cry from the St Paul's Grill, Reuters' staff canteen on the 8th floor in the 1970s and later. If any ghosts from its long gone Reuters days still haunt 85 Fleet Street they are keeping quiet.
They starred on Broadway and slummed on Seventh as a growing colony of expat journalists expanded Reuters' American domain. Proximity to the newsroom high in a skyscraper with views of the Manhattan roofscape, across the Hudson to New Jersey and beyond was key to the location of any refuge from the desk: journalists needed more than their lunchtime to carry out editorial planning sessions. Rousing scenes of alcohol-stoked global news stars vying to command the marathon editorial meetings are still evoked.
It was almost impossible to get a small drink at Solomon's, the hole-in-the-wall bar run by a handsome, moustachioed retired detective in Nicosia: the beer was in large bottles, whisky was miniatures, a tumbler of ouzo and water made you cough and if you asked for a glass of wine the bottle was left at your elbow, with the clear implication that a real man would empty it. The bar attracted a paramilitary following, friends from Solomon's former career, as well as journalists.
Nowhere but Paris could be home to a cheap and cheerful bistro that featured a statuesque blonde waitress called Nelly, a bar nicknamed Smelly's after its malodorous patron, and everywhere plenty of vin rouge. Memories are vague, possibly clouded by alcoholic haze.
The bars of Saigon were home for two generations of war correspondents, the reporters who covered the French and American conflicts. They offered an essential interlude between forays out of the city to the battlefields of Vietnam. Some of them were hotel bars, others back street dives. The older ones, like the Continental and the Majestic, figured in novels of the French Indochina War, by writers such as Graham Greene and Jean Lartéguy. Later the Caravelle became the American media headquarters. One of the attractions of the most popular bars was their rooftop location: at times of crisis in the city they became vantage points for viewing the action. Now they are luxury leisure scenes for rich tourists.
Although it had a celebrated history the old National Press Club bar was no place to look at but it was handy for Reuters' Washington bureau a few floors below in the same landmark building. And anyhow, the main attraction was the good talk, big drinks, occasional argument and friendly fisticuffs. It wasn't the only show in town, though. The Class Reunion, the Old Ebbitt, the Dubliner, the Tune In and others competed for the attention of the US capital's pen and pad crowd.
An era has ended for those who remember the heyday of Fleet Street: its most notorious wine bar, El Vino, has been sold. Management had insisted on a strict dress code and banished women to a back room until judges ruled on a discrimination case in court in 1982.