Mrs Moon's eclipse
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.
There was hardly a dry eye - and certainly not a dry throat - in the house as a shabby Fleet Street dive bar closed its doors for the last time.
Mrs Moon’s, a favourite haunt of Reuter journalists, was a draughty old cellar with a near-legendary mystique that often puzzled the uninitiated.
It is to be bulldozed into oblivion. The whole block in which it is located is to make way for shops and offices. Demolition could start in the spring although most of the shops in the block are still open at the moment.
The group developing the site says that in about two years time a wine bar or restaurant may open on the spot which the bar occupied.
The last drinks at Mrs Moon’s were served early on the morning of Saturday 7 January after a Wagnerian climax. ‘Harsh realisation began to dawn on the Thursday,’ reported RWS Training Editor George Short*, one of the pub’s greatest devotees. ‘The Grouse whisky was missing from the north end of the bottle row and its optic lay ominously empty. The peanuts ran out about 6 p.m.’
On the Friday, the bar stayed open all day, packed to the walls, as police turned a blind eye to infringements of the licensing laws. Reuter staff were joined and jostled by East London friends of landlady Joan Moon (photo), after whom the bar was named. Mrs Moon wept as she was given a bouquet and the crowd sang to her.
The last drinks at Mrs Moon's were served early on the morning… after a Wagnerian climax
News of the closure was sent out on Reuters internal editorial message network. A flood of sad replies (some reproduced around these pages) came in from Paris, Moscow, New York, Nairobi, Buenos Aires, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Brussels and Lisbon.
The Beirut office telephoned the bar with its condolences. Tokyo had a representative - Chief Correspondent Pat Massey** - on the spot.
Mrs Moon’s was originally the dive bar of the Falstaff pub which became the Pizzaland restaurant. After her husband Jim died, Mrs Moon carried on the bar. It bore no sign on the street. She was helped by her sons Billy and Barry, and staff including Sheila, Don (an amateur football referee), ‘The Kid’, ‘Big John’ and ‘Bill Senior’, nicknamed ‘The Finger’ because of his habit of waving it when admonishing offenders.
Its Reuter heyday was in the late 1970’s when customers trembled at the iron rule of Mrs Moon who ordered people out at the slightest provocation. She invoked a law which allows landlords - and landladies - to expel people from their premises without giving a reason. Once she solemnly commanded Kevin Cooney***, now a Reporter in New York, to ‘stop laughing’.
‘She had an uncanny eye for poseurs and fresh young people, all of whom were instantly barred,’ Short said. She refused to have her regular clients upset by spillover crowds from the world-famous Cheshire Cheese pub opposite. The word ‘cheese’ was never mentioned in her presence.
Mrs Moon once ordered out several Reuter managers but later admitted this had been an error.
One evening she barred Chief Sub-editor Ron Thomson****, but that was supposed to be only until the next day. Thomson took offence and, from the threshold, made one of the finest speeches heard there, vowing never to return. He held out for three days.
In recent years, after a fall, Mrs Moon was semi-retired and appeared in the bar only at lunchtimes.
‘Sometimes people were driven away by the shabbiness and winter draughts that could actually cause the tattered carpet to ripple,’ said Short. ‘But they came back.’
A year ago, City of London authorities tried to stop plans by the Hammerson property development firm to demolish the block under which the bar stood. They opposed the plans on conservation grounds and were supported by Moon customers who organised a petition.
However, the plans were approved by a public inquiry, making it only a matter of time before the block emptied prior to demolition.
Mark Robertson, a City of London planning official, told Reuters recently: ‘I was particularly sorry about the final decision. I was fighting to save the narrow frontages of the block’s Victorian buildings because they represent the line of the original mediaeval plots along Fleet Street.’
A spokeswoman at Hammersons said planning was still in the preliminary stages but ‘some sort of facility, such as a restaurant or wine bar, will probably be included.’
Meanwhile, most Reuter ‘Moonies’ are taking their leisure-time drinks in The Bell pub along Fleet Street. Billy Moon was seen in the Street the other day, looking for a job. Mrs Moon is reported to be bored.
First published in Reuters World No. 20 (February 1984), below.
*George Short died on 1 June 1997.
**Pat Massey died on 17 March 2009.
***Kevin Cooney died on 26 November 2004.
****Ron Thomson died on 11 October 2003. ■