“Dan Farson spat the gin and tonic I had poured for him all over me and then showed me how you actually make one – by just ‘showing’ the merest drop of tonic to the gin. I was lucky with him actually. He had a habit of throwing glass ashtrays at barmaids.”
Through an unassuming door on Dean Street, down a set of unassuming stairs, there is an unassuming basement club. You may well be served your drink by an unassuming man behind the bar. Gerry’s Club is not the sort of place that screams about its members – not the current ones, anyhow. The walls are adorned with framed pictures of those who once drank here often: Tony Hancock, John Gregson, Stanley Baker, Wilfred Bramble. Gerry’s is also where Ray Galton and Alan Simpson came to imbibe from the fountain of inspiration, and pen some of the finest sitcoms of all time. Surprisingly small and dimly lit, it quietly gets on with its business. Its business is wetting the whistles of Soho’s great and the good.
Outliving louche neighbours like the Colony Club, Gerry’s was established in 1955 by Gerry Campion – an actor best-known for playing the tuck-stealing, cake-munching schoolboy Billy Bunter, famous for phrases like “Yaroo!” and “Oh crikey!” (which today sound like something the prime minister might mutter).
Even if Campion himself was partial to a little gossip-mongering between good friends. (“He got through £10,000 being whipped by tarts,” he once said of one member), in Gerry’s, you can remain more or less anonymous. Your late night shenanigans won’t be leaked in the morning papers.
The unassuming man behind the bar these days is Michael Dillon; he must have served a thousand famous faces since starting here almost 30 years ago. “Somebody described it like Cheers,” Dillion once mused, “where everybody knows your name. It’s small enough. And people talk to each other here.” It wasn’t Dillon on the end of Farson’s gin fountain though – that was Cathi Unsworth, who used to work at the joint (the experience doesn’t appear to have dulled her love of Gerry’s).
Its timeless quality keeps the creatively-minded coming through Gerry’s door. It is one of the few places north of the river that south London booze hounds and cult bloggers Deserter would consider gracing with their presence. “It’s an after-hours bar whose location I can never recall until last orders at The French House brings a magical clarity,” explains one of them.
Strictly speaking, Gerry’s is a member’s club, although many a non-card holder has bragged, charmed or flirted their way into the establishment. (Back in the day, the club used to be on the end of raids – as the authorities tried to wheedle out those who shouldn’t have been there). The one cardinal sin here isn’t knocking back too many glasses of the Gerry’s label red but being boring. Soho-centric novelist Keith Waterhouse’s favourite put-down went: “Are you going to say something interesting? Or are you going to fuck off?”
Dillion remembers the first time he ever stepped into Gerry’s. “I’m in heaven, truly, I’ve found what I’ve been looking for…” he thought to himself. The first time you make your way down that unassuming staircase, and flirt your way into the club, you’ll probably think the same thing.