Another obituary, I'm afraid. Walking towards the bus stop last night after a pleasant evening sweltering in Soho, I make a detour with half a hope of grabbing a last pint in noted Hanway Place drinking hole, Troy's.
Troy has fallen. It is shut. It's been taken over by one of the adjoining Spanish bars. This is a landmark event.
Troy's has been a landmark for wayward journalists, IT and otherwise, for decades. I first stumbled into it one Saturday afternoon about twenty years ago after an Iain M Banks signing on the Charing Cross Road. Time and other factors cloud the details. I believe I was in the company of a disreputable bookseller (but I repeat myself) called Groberts, and Gamma –- an off-planet creature exiled on Earth and unconvincingly disguised as a literary agent. I was new in town, and still a bit dazed, but very up for adventure. Gamma led the way into a winding medieval street off Tottenham Court Road, past puddles of piss-scented rubbish, into a narrow, unmarked doorway and up narrower stairs.
And there was Troy's. It looked like the front room from The Young Ones, only in worse repair and with a bar at one end. There were already a couple of SF authors installed at the bar: on inspection, one proved to have fused symbiotically with the woodwork, while the other was alternately muttering something about tax inspectors and motioning for another scotch. The air was thick with the smoke of a thousand Marlboro Reds; the carpet looked like the surface of Titan, each crater made by the fag end of one of those Marlboros glistening with a tiny hydrocarbon lake of partially evaporated lager.
As Groberts pushed his way past a gaggle of indeterminate gender by the quiz machine in search of beer, he nearly stepped on a small dog and was greeted with a burst of pleased profanity by the twinkly, dissipated woman behind the taps. I took about thirteen microseconds to fall utterly in love with the place.
That love was reciprocated: the place proved a safe haven from the world when licensing hours were no longer your friend, a good place to meet a very wide variety of people of similar interests (drinking and not going to bed) and even (it was rumoured) a wide variety of people to go to bed with once drinking was no longer an option. The SF crowd came and went, as did other members of the Soho tribes -– actors, musicians, journalists, advertising types, film company oiks. I got quite a lot of work from there too, usually over a 2am pint with a desperate editor, but I wouldn't recommend it as a strategy.
The woman behind the bar was Helen. She had been a saleswoman working for the distilleries, flogging spirits to hotels: not a job anyone can do for long, she told me. Each day it involves going to a hotel, splitting a bottle or two with the manager, sleeping it off and setting off after breakfast the next day to repeat the experience. She had a variety of interesting afflictions as a result of this lifestyle: running a bar might not have been the perfect career move. But she was very good at it, keeping the bank, the breweries, the Metropolitan police, the magistrates and the punters in order with charismatic ease.
So many stories: the shoe-throwing contest from the window into the street below. The New Years Eve party where the normally absolute no-drugs policy was spectacularly reversed and various people who should have known better raced their nostrils up both sides of the bar along a track marked out in a seasonal white powder. The time I won Helen twenty quid on the quiz machine and got honourary membership for life. The night after the 1992 election when she asked the braying crowds "Did you lot vote Tory?" "YEEEEESH!". "This is a members-only club, you know. Let's see your cards." Grinning, they proffered the proof. She plucked them out of their hands and ripped them up, one by one. "I said, this is a members-only club. Get out."
I can't remember whether it was the fourth or fifth time the doctor told her "one more drop and you're dead: I mean it this time" that the prediction came true. She left the place and the dog to her barman, a Northern Irish chap called Charlie, but liberalised licensing laws and his increasing hands-off approach to running the place soon finished it off. The last time I was there, I came within a whisker of getting comprehensively beaten up by the pharmaceutically enhanced doorman: I talked my way out of it (amazing what talents one discovers in extremis – making angry crackheads see sense may yet be evolutionarily advantageous), but whatever bibulous angel guarding Troy's had clearly departed. I live in hope – and fear – of finding where it's landed now.
So, goodbye Helen, Charlie. Goodbye, Troy's, and the thousands of good-natured, garrulous, bright, miserable, fun, random examples of boozed-up Sohoites I met there. You will not be forgotten. Not remembered, exactly – my god, what did I get up to last night? -- but not forgotten.