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Haunts

Whisky and wisdom at Solomon's bar

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.


Solomon’s was a hole-in-the-wall bar in a Nicosia side street adopted by sub-editors from the Middle East and Africa Desk in the years leading up to the operation’s transfer to London in 1997. It was discovered by a sub when he was ejected from the family car outside Solomon’s after a blazing row with his Italian wife. Inside he found sympathy (“Ahhh, women!”), cheap whisky and a convivial atmosphere. He passed the word around.

Solomon was a handsome, moustachioed retired detective with a calm, philosophical mien. Unlike some of his Greek-Cypriot compatriots he did not dwell on the 1974 Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, although he had lost property in the invasion.

As well as journalists, the bar attracted a paramilitary following, friends from Solomon's former career. His heavily muscled younger son, a member of the Cypriot special forces, also dropped in occasionally to see everything was OK.

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

It was almost impossible to get a small drink at Solomon's: 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.

However, Solomon’s best customers were himself and his drinking buddy “Captain Nemo”, a wizened former pilot. They sipped whisky all afternoon and evening.

From his tiny kitchen Solomon also rustled up a robust cuisine; largely, pungent, much-marinated meat with mezes and salads. Such a meal, when soaked in copious alcohol for several hours, produced breath which could blister paint and was easily recognisable to spouses. The accusation: “You’ve been at Solomon’s all this time” was not easily deniable when one’s exhalations caused the dog to sneeze.

Former Middle East correspondent and sub-editor John Baggaley*, who retired to Cyprus, recalls a typically vivid evening: “My main memory was of a night enlivened by the head (or deputy) of the police drugs squad, who handed out his card in case we should need him and who later - after several jars - believed he was a reincarnated Caruso. He wasn’t, but by that time no-one cared. I was amused as he weaved an uncertain way from the premises, got behind the wheel of his car and drove off!”

Sadly, John reports that Solomon’s is no more.

*John Baggaley died on 12 August 2012.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Nicosia.


Michael Hughes worked on the MEA desk from 1994 to 1997. He was also a correspondent and sub-editor in Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, New York and Hong Kong. ■