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The Negresco, the Rhul, Casino

Friday 19th January

After an eventful time in Monte Carlo we move on down ‘The Diamond Coast’ to spend a few days in Nice at the large and ornate Negresco Hotel. Built for the Romanian hotelier Henri Negrescu and opened in 1913, this beautiful neo-Louis XVI style building was designed by the Dutch architect Edouard-Jean Niermans who was famous for creating the Moulin Rouge in Paris. It has a striking frontage flanked by two lateral rotundas and a dusky pink tiled roof that can be seen from afar. After the war, the hotel was taken over by George Marquet, a magnet in the European hotel trade and director of the Claridge Hotel in Paris.

The Negresco Hotel, Nice

The Negresco Hotel, Nice

Aunt Mimi arrived ahead of us and is being escorted by a London socialite and artist called Sir Oliver Beacham. They meet us in the foyer of the hotel and the first thing we do is take a stroll outside along the fashionable and very busy Promenade des Anglais on which the Negresco is perched. This vast expansive avenue is lined with luxurious hotels and palm surrounded villas on one side and the sea on the other. The Mediterranean coastline extends alluringly from the distant lighthouse of Antibes in the West to the Chateau set in green in the foreground to the east

The Promenade de Anglais with the Ruhl Hotel in the distance on the left

The Promenade de Anglais with the Ruhl Hotel in the distance on the left

It is a breathtaking landscape of the sea, the city climbing up the hill to Cimiez and the white-capped mountains beyond. However, as much as the city charms, it also repels and there are some rather noxious odours that permeate the air!

We meet Cécile and her family for lunch at their equally fashionable hotel called the Ruhl further along the Promenade before it becomes the Quai du Midi and just before the Jardin Public. Cécile is looking radiant and stunningly beautiful in a white and green crepe du chine frock with a silver belt studded with silk flowers from Calvayrac.

The Ruhl Hotel, Nice

The Ruhl Hotel, Nice

“It is so good to see you Fynes” says Cécile kissing me on both cheeks “I am so sorry we did not get to see each other when you visited Paris last. I wanted to take you to a new dancing that opened called Le Perroquet. You will love it. Perhaps we can have a night out on your return journey?”

“Oh yes that would be wonderful.”

After lunch we take coffee and have a fascinating discussion about Nice started by Cécile’s observations.

“ I do so like Nice. It is so beautiful, so intoxicating. The sky is always blue and the sea glistens in the bright sky.”

“It is also one perpetual round of balls, horse-races, regattas, concerts, parties and fetes,” adds Millie.

Henri says “ Did you know that Nice boasts more tourists than anywhere else in France? You can hear every language spoken here!”

Mama suggests “Nice stands the test of cosmopolitanism. It is a melting pot of cultures with the French, English, Italians, Russians and now Americans.”

Mimi reminds us “Do remember that little over 60 years ago Nice was Italian. It is not really French.”

Cecile’s mother adds “You are right Mimi. A large portion of the Nicoises are actually Italian by blood, culture and instincts.”

Papa remarks “Well the Russians patronised Nice for decades but since the revolution they have evaporated. It is now flooded with Americans instead. And, I am told that it is the only place in Europe where Americans can honestly say that they feel at home because it was made for and by everybody and caters to everybody.”

After lunch we visit the ballroom to partake of their daily tea dances from 4.30-6.30pm and watch the exhibition dancing of Tina and Giherady. We do indeed have some fun.

After a splendid dinner at the Negresco, Cécile and I with Millie and Henri visit the Casino Municipal on the Place Massena. It has a well managed and daintily decorated salon de thé on the first floor, which is laid out like a winter garden with tropical plants. They are having a Spanish fete and all of smart Nice is in attendance to watch a series of wonderful dancing attractions including Filiberto and Anita.

Exterior of the Casino, Nice

Exterior of the Casino, Nice

Interior of the Casino, Nice

Interior of the Casino, Nice

Cécile is very impressed with my dancing.

“Fynes you are incredible. I have to tell you that half of the room are watching us. You could become a professional dancer you know.”

“Oh don’t be silly Cécile I cannot be that good.”

Saturday 20th January

We spend the late morning exploring the old Italian city set back from the Quai de Midi and then a relaxing hour or so listening to the band in the gardens. After an aperitif on the terrace of the Savoy Hotel we take a light lunch at the Ruhl and then spend the afternoon at the Casino de la Jetée-Promenade. This curious pier was the brain child of the Marquis d’Espouy de Saint-Paul who wanted Nice to have a replica of London’s Crystal Palace. Instead it was built with a more oriental or Moorish style and opened in 1891. At the summit of the 35 metres high dome is a gold-plated mermaid holding a three-pronged fork amidst turrets and minarets standing out against the skyline. The interior contains a vast concert and restaurant hall, a theatre, ball and gambling rooms and open-air terraces for refreshments.

Tonight is the special gala held in the large hall of the Negresco, which is a splendid affair with the added bonus of Prince George and party amongst the 400 covers. Cécile is wearing another stunning creation from Calyayrac, this time a ball dress of ibis georgette with flounced panels and a bodice of ribbon trellis work in ibis and gold and flounced 1830 like sleeves. Mama and Mimi wear their usual Lucile finery and Millie is in a more avant-garde creation from Paul Caret. Mimi is looking rather enamoured with Sir Oliver.
Cécile is not feeling too well and believes she is developing a cold. We eat a sumptuous dinner, but before we can actually dance ourselves, I am thrilled when June Day and Jack Gavin provide an entertainment. They are given a rapturous reception and present a marvellous array of dances.

A legion of men of various ages are fluttering over June after her performance and an equal number of women besiege the slightly haughty Jack. June comes over to our table and I stand up to kiss her as Millie introduces her to everyone.

“This is my friend June.” Millie says “We had the great pleasure of her company in Paris before Christmas when she was the attraction at Claridge’s.”

“Hey Fynes, good to see you. I am here for the season” She explains “So I hope we will see each other more during your stay. Are you here long?”

“We are only here for a week June and then moving onto Cannes.” I say.

“ I want to see how your dancing has progressed since Paris Fynes. Would you dance with me?”

I look at Cécile who nods approvingly.

“Of course June. I would be delighted.”

When we return to our table June says “Your dancing is really exceptional Fynes. I think you are ready to take on a new career!”

I blush. “I have told him the same June” says Cécile.

Sunday 21st January

I get a message from the Ruhl Hotel to say that unfortunately Cécile is unwell and will stay in her room. I am moping around after breakfast and bump into June in the foyer of the hotel.

“Hey Fynes. What are you up to?”

“Ah nothing much June. Cécile is ill.”

“Well that is interesting as Jack is not feeling too well either. Would you like to accompany me today?”

“Oh June that would be my pleasure.”

We walk out onto the Promenade des Anglais and head toward the Ruhl Hotel.

“Do you know that it is a shame that the beach is so stony. We could dip our feet in the water if there was some sand.” June says with a giggle “Instead I think it is almost time for an apertif.”

The bar of the Ruhl hotel is the meeting place for cocktails just like the Ritz bar in Paris and we end up having a few cocktails, followed by a long lunch before we return to the Negresco.

“There is nowhere to dance now” says June. “Why don’t you come to my room? I have a gramophone and we can dance and I can show you a thing or two.”

Thursday 25th January

We have had an amazing week of fun and frolics. Cecile’s illness was over quickly and we resumed our daily activities. Cecile is charmin g and in no way hampers my social life to the extent that one night I went out with June to visit the New York Bar favoured by Americans and the two fashionable cabaret clubs Le Perroquet and Maxime’s.

Although Cécile is adorable and June is fun and I am not short of attention, I am missing Lorenzo, who is still in Monte Carlo.

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Claridge’s, Clover Club, Grandy Teddy, Zelli’s, El Garron, Abbaye de Theleme, Washington Palace.

Friday 20th October

The next morning Mimi’s housekeeper makes a delightful English breakfast. Millie joins Monty and I. I have to tell you that Millie and Henri have their own family house in Paris but sometimes stay here.

“Do you really have to map out our nocturnal fun so precisely Millie?” I enquire nicely.

“Look” she says in a very matter-of-fact way “I am only doing what Mama has asked by keeping an eye on you. As long as you come to the gala at Claridge’s tonight I can report back that we had a good evening. What you do afterward is fine by me.”

“Oh you are an egg Millie” I squawk rather too delightedly. At least we do not have implement plan B which Monty and I hatched last night.

“Oh good’ says Monty “you see I interviewed a rather wonderful Spanish lady yesterday afternoon.” He says enthusiastically “… and I have been asked to see her performance tonight.”

“Oh we must come too. Who is it?” says Millie.

“It is the Spanish singer Raquel Meller. But alas, unusually they are ticketing her performances. I have only been given two tickets. Her shows are so popular she is sold out for the entire week.”

“I really want to experience La Tournée des Grands Ducs if we can too.”

“hmm” Millie replies “I guess you will be coming home as we serve breakfast tomorrow then?”

“Yes, I think we probably will” I admit.

Feeling much more relaxed, Monty and I take a stroll along the river Seine and around Le Jardin Tuilléres, have coffee and croissant and idle away the day talking.

That evening we go to Claridge’s for one of their popular Soirée de Gala dinner-dances. Millie has organised everything to perfection. Costumes arrive at 4pm. We change and then assemble for cocktails as our escorts also assigned by Millie arrive. Since I told Millie that Gabrielle is dull she has matched her up with Monty to his utmost chagrin. But I have the delightful company of Odette, who is an amazing dancer.

There are over 300 people assembled in the sumptuous restaurant and ballroom appropriately decorated to carry out the idea of Une Féte Chez Mephisto. We are all dressed in red and black or white and look very sinister and spooky. Dinner is a treat with equally spooky treats and Sherbo’s band played the latest Broadway music but focus on the foxtrots.

“They have the happy knack of keeping up with the times and are every bit as good as when they played in London at Ciro’s” says Monty.

There was also an Argentine orchestra led by Del Horno who dispensed the tango and a further jazz band. The cabaret is provided by the exquisite exhibition dancing of Jack Gavin and June Day and they were terrific receiving a standing ovation.

Millie tells us “this is Jack Gavin’s fourth season here. He crossed the Atlantic with Joan Sawyer in 1919 and created a great stir with the introduction of the Shimmy. They appeared at a benefit given in Paris by Mme Poincare and were personally congratulated by the first lady of France. They were immediately signed by Claridge’s.”

Monty adds “Last fall he was at the Embassy Club in London and then danced at the Negresco Hotel during the Riviera season. He has quite a following here and London. And I have to say June matches him perfectly”

June brings Jack over and introduces us. He is delightful, if a little full of himself, but then he is the star of the show I guess!

We dance for a while and after an hour or so, as the room begins to thin a little, Monty looks at his watch and announces “Millie I am afraid that Fynes and I will have to leave shortly.” We rush back to change at Mimi’s and get a cab to the Clover Club. We have good seats despite the crush and the atmosphere is electric in anticipation of Miss Meller’s performance.

Monty tells me a little about her. “She came from a poor family in Southern Spain and made her debut as a singer of risqué songs at the Arnao Theatre in the Parabello red-light district of Barcelona. She became an instant hit and appeared all over Spain. She made her Parisian debut in late 1919 at the Olympia and was brought to London by Albert de Courville to appear in Joy Bells at the Hippodrome in the summer of 1920. But although she got rave reviews she did not draw the anticipated large audiences.”

Raquel Meller

Raquel Meller

Suddenly the lights dim and Miss Meller walks onto the empty dance floor wearing a typical Spanish costume. She is incredible with a beautiful pale face, a tempting mouth and smouldering dark eyes. She begins to sing with a frail and delicate voice that is so emotive and haunting. She is mesmerising even though she sings in Spanish, and she is given a standing ovation. Before she sings her next song called El Relicario she has a slight hiccup with the backing orchestra and her temper flares.

“She is rather spoilt I think and I am told she can be quite temperamental as you can see…” whispers Monty with a titter.

We leave and pop over to the Grand Teddy or The So Different at 24 Rue Caumartin. Monty tells me that it is partly owned by the society party fixer Elsa Maxwell.  Here, Jenny Golder from the Folies Bergere is the star turn. Her performance well timed to follow Miss Meller across the street!

“She is English you know although born in Australia. For some reason everyone is confused about her origins” Monty tells me “probably because she swears in Italian, sings in English, gossips in German, drinks in Russian, behaves in French and explains it all in Spanish.”

Jenny Golder

Jenny Golder

She is an all round entertainer with a vibrant personality who can sing and dance, give impersonations and mingles a wonderful sense of humour with sex appeal. She is very clever and very funny.

We get into conversation with a gentleman who tells us where we ought to go on our tour. Monty agrees with everything he says. He is nothing short of polite but since he knows Paris like the back of his hand because of his job I think I trust him more! And, as I thought Monty turns out to be the perfect guide.

Just after midnight we head off up to Montmartre and our first stop is at Zelli’s bar, 16 Rue Fontaine which is a big raffish cavernous room lined with tables and packed to overflowing. “Joe Zelli is a rather happy, good-time Italian” says Monty “and since I am half Italian I should know all about Italians! He got his start running a restaurant in New York and then moved to London. He fought in the Italian artillery during the war and after the armistice catered to US officers at the original American bar at Tours. He made Paris his home and migrated from a nightspot on the Rue Caumartin to here. Some people think he is one of the most popular characters in Montmartre, while others think he is dubious and has a bad reputation.”

“Well it has got a great atmosphere but if you ask me I think this place is a little sleazy.” I say  “let’s face it the room is populated with a great many suspicious looking characters.”

“That is nothing out of the ordinary for places like this Fynes. The secret of Zelli’s success is due to his enormous stable of hostesses and gigolo’s. He has already made a fortune because he knows how Americans like to have their name remembered and his wife is French and she looks after the cash and the books!”

I am not that impressed by the band and the impossible crush prohibits good dancing. I cannot really believe why this place is regarded as one of the gayest places in Montmartre.

“Of course all us Yankees gravitate here”  says Monty “usually there is a good cabaret show in the typical international Parisian style. But not tonight seemingly.”

We move on down the street to the more palatable El Garron at 6 Rue Fontaine. This is a stuffy but smart place and is the lair of the Tango in Paris.

“This is owned and run by one of the Volterra brothers, who have their fingers in so many Parisian music halls and cabarets” says Monty “it is hugely popular with Argentines and South Americans.”

I prefer this place and we have a great time dancing to the excellent band.

At La Gaité Montmartroise or Chez Mariétte, formerly le Grand Vatel in the Rue Pigalle, we watch the dancing of the American Solange with the slogan Joy Jazz and Jollity. But we move on to the definitely rather jolly Pigalle’s on the Place Pigalle, which is a very smart establishment with two orchestras that play excellent music.

An advert for Pigalle's

An advert for Pigalle's

Our last port of call is the extremely popular and very fashionable at 1 Place Pigalle. “The Abbaye is the oldest of all the Montmartre supper places and was formerly a church. Do you know that before the war the waiters were garbed as monks?” Monty tells me.  We climb a stairway and enter a large hall brilliantly lit with lights and lanterns and decorated with flags in vivid spots of colour. The central dance floor was surrounded by horde of little tables all placed terribly close together. It was heaving with people even as we left at 5am.

Saturday 21st October

I forgot to tell you” says Monty at 4pm the next day as we had lunch nursing severe hangovers “the French call all the cabarets where you can dance ‘dancings’. Isn’t that kind of cute?”

“Lovely. In fact Millie told me about a super ‘dancing’ close by. We ought to go tonight.”

We take Millie and Henri and stroll to the Washington Palace at  14 Rue Magellan off the Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe for a dinner-dance in a rather large and handsome ballroom that very clearly rivals that of Claridge’s. Fusella’s Orchestra is furnishing the music for the tangos and the Melody Six play the jazz numbers and it was marvellous. I am in great demand and dance for hours.

The entertainment between the dances was essentially Parisian in quality and excellent. But of all the acts the best was the comic dancers Billy Revel and the Parisian Lily Floriane were costumed as Apaches and danced a Valse Chaloupee (or in fact an Apache dance) and then did an amusing imitation of the American Camel Walk. Billy is English with an eccentric clownish style not lacking in character and has just started making a name for himself.

“He possess the art of being extremely funny without being coarse as only English mimics know” says Monty perfectly.

No more dancings tonight. I think we overdid it last night. 

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