||This is London
It's Hard to Stay Cool
by Adam Edwards
Mick Jagger was once the coolest dude on the planet, a man who, a quarter of a century ago, could swivel the heads of the powerful and the pretty anywhere in the world. If you were with Mick in the Seventies you were cool. If he came to your club or restaurant then it was the cool place to be. And if Mick dressed like a transvestite baseball player on speed, then that, too, was cool.
Now, Mick is an elderly gent. A wrinkled old rouč chasing a bit of young skirt at the opening of an envelope - how uncool is that?
Cool does not grow old gracefully. Cool is a split second when the gods decree that at any particular moment a person, event or place is the hippest and most happening in the firmament. And on 15 January 1998, the coolest of cool places was the opening of The Pharmacy restaurant in the then very chicest corner of London, Notting Hill Gate. Diners included those seminal late-Nineties figures Helen Fielding, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Nicola Formby and the Damons - Hill and From-Blur. There was a soft opening party (for the very, very cool) and a hard opening party (for the sweaty hacks). You had to be there.
Last Thursday night the restaurant had a reopening party, but unfortunately the gods had moved on. For many years, a cavernous Greek restaurant called Cleopatra's Tavern had stood on the site of what is now The Pharmacy. When that taverna finally went bust, a gang of the snappiest boys in town decided that they could do better; much better.
Liam Carson, formerly of the Groucho Club and first among London's rouč restaurateurs, became the consultant. Matthew Freud, the then doyen of public relations, would do the publicity. And the shaven-headed contemporary artist Damien Hirst, the then coolest man in town (with the possible exception of Pharmacy's chef Marco Pierre White) would design the restaurant.
The outside resembled a continental chemist's shop and inside the theme was continued. The bar stools were modelled on horse pills, the walls were lined with glass drugs cabinets and the gents' urinals were a glass installation containing syringes, suppositories and other unappetising medical detritus.
It had a glorious few months. If you tried to book, the girl answering the phone would laugh derisively at the idea that there might be a table. When the Royal Pharmaceutical Society claimed the restaurant was misrepresenting itself as a chemist's, the management released a grand statement that read: "To confuse The Pharmacy with a retail operation is surprising." And Liam Carson announced that, "Notting Hill is a great place for a restaurant as long as you don't let too many people from Notting Hill in."
Kate, Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull were all at the first opening night.
Nine months after it opened, the upmarket restaurant group Hartford bought The Pharmacy, paying £3.6 million in shares plus a further £3.6 million if the restaurant met its profit targets. Unfortunately the Hartford group had not taken into account the small matter of "cool". The Pharmacy was no longer "in".
By the middle of the millennium year it was haemorrhaging money. A spokesman for the Hartford group claimed it was "the lousy English weather that's caused the problems". But it was nothing to do with the weather - the fashionable crowd had moved on to Hoxton and Clerkenwell and were hanging out in Smiths of Smithfield. The Pharmacy was as dated as feng shui and the Fendi baguette.
Earlier this year the restaurant had a make-over. Former Slug and Lettuce boss Sheila McKenzie, who was drafted in to rescue the Hartford group, said she wanted to adopt "a less elitist approach". So the wall-to-wall medicine cabinets have been replaced by pill-motif wallpaper and the stark white furniture has been softened with the addition of green banquettes. Where the old bar once stood is now a "chill-out lounge", and part of downstairs has been made into a "retreat for corporate functions".
And on Thursday this make-over had its opening party. There were the usual moronic bouncers manning the velvet-rope barrier, but this time there were no crowds. The paparazzi idly leaned against the bar chatting to each other in what was a celebrity-free zone. The guests seemed to have been bussed in - a west-of-Essex singles crowd with an estuary attitude and a few fortysomethings picking at the oriental nibbles in the half-empty upstairs room.
But where was Damien Hirst? "In Milan," said the PR, "but he may arrive later." And where was Kylie? Where was Jarvis or Jade?
And most of all, where was Mick? Not at The Pharmacy, that's for sure. The old crooner may not be Jumping Jack Flash any more, but he has not yet turned into a 21st century Christopher Biggins, and he knows, like the rest of smart London, that the gods of cool are now partying elsewhere.
[Edited by Jaxx]