BILLY FOYLE gives a first hand account of the night Nelson’s Pillar came tumbling down….
It was the early 1960s and I was living in a small bedsit in South Anne Street, Dublin, across the road from The Crystal Ballroom. I had come to the city from my home in the far west to study Hotel Management at the Russell and Royal Hibernian hotels, where you worked long and hard for little or no reward, but you learned your trade.
In 1965, my friend Norrie Willis and I decided to take the plunge and go into business for ourselves, and we rented a premise on Molesworth Street from a man named Glass. It was equipped as a restaurant, but the previous incumbent had failed to make an impression and had recently handed back the keys.
The price was right, the location was right, and right from the start we aimed for the top end of the market; within weeks we were ‘discovered’ and the game was on.
We knew what we were doing and ran a very tight ship. I looked after the ordering, the kitchen and the cooking, – ‘The Best Steaks in Dublin’.
We had one waiter, Billy Cahill, who looked after the tables and customers, and Norrie looked after everything else. We could seat up to a maximum of 30, at a push, and, as the word got around, we had to begin turning customers away. We were very close to the Dáil and soon got to know how our politicians liked their steaks, and whether they preferred red or white, or, indeed, could tell the difference!
We opened at 6pm, seven days a week, and finished around midnight, and after a couple of very profitable months, thought we had it made. But, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice and men…’!
One Thursday night, all tables were occupied, and I was in the kitchen with five steaks on the plate, and under pressure. Our waiter was jammed between the fridge and the wall, sleeping it off; he had been sampling the wine and I had found him doing a striptease for the customers.
Norrie himself was looking after the tables when our landlord arrived and announced that he was doubling the rent; our success had not gone unnoticed. Norrie argued the toss, but Glass was unbending and, as we had taken the premises ‘on spec’, without a formal lease, he saw us as a soft touch. We were all going to learn a lesson.
After some altercation, Norrie stalked into the kitchen and growled, ‘Get your things, we’re leaving’. I grabbed my gear, turned off the cooker, with its five steaks, said goodbye to Billy, who was showing signs of life, and we headed for the door.