I remember one particular restaurant with immense satisfaction. Amazingly, it no longer exists, though the building is still there. It was on the Morne, or Morne Fortune as it is perhaps more properly named, just by Bella Rosa, and it was called The San Antoine.
I believe that the San Antoine Hotel and Restaurant – yes, it used to be a hotel, not only a restaurant – was, in 1924, the talk of the town and the first in Saint Lucia to have electricity and running water installed in its rooms. Now, sadly, the only thing we can say is that it “used to be a restaurant.”
According to the St. Lucia Handbook of 1924, “A new Hotel has just been started up on up to date lines, with electric lighting, running water in bedrooms, etc., installed. Charges are moderate and terms can be arranged for a lengthened stay. Hotel St. Antoine is situated on the Morne Road within 10 minutes walk of the town, being 300 feet above sea level. The views over the Castries Harbour and the surrounding country are magnificent and the large verandahs are quite cool at any hour of the day. Lunches, teas and dinners can be supplied to visitors at a moderate charge and will prove a boon to passengers who wish to leave their ships during coaling operations, or to escape from the heat of the town.”
Somerset Maugham, one of my favorite writers of short stories, used to stay there, or so they say, as did Alex Waugh, who was brother to the perhaps more famous Evelyn, and who wrote one of the most erotic tales ever about a St Lucian woman loved and lost by a man. Saint Lucia was one of the places to be, or to have been, in the years between the Great World Wars; even Ernest Hemmingway found his way here, though he preferred, like many of our politicians, Cuba.
Then, of course, there was the ‘gay set’ before gay became fashionable; Noel Coward and his yachting friends tended to pop in unexpectedly at a Castries watering hole run by a now deceased ex-pat and his partner. All this was long before the Internet, long before instantaneous celebrity reporting. Nowadays, whenever a celebrity is spotted it becomes world news in a moment. A hundred years ago, people lived their lives in relative peace and serenity. Who knows how many rich and famous people found tranquility in Saint Lucia? It still happens, perhaps, but people find it harder to manage their privacy.
The San Antoine was a magnificent place. Leaving the car on the limited parking strip in front of the building, then climbing the steep stone steps up to the terrace, all the while resisting the urge to glance over your shoulder, then turning left into the bar and seeing stretched before you a panorama more wonderful, more glistening and enticing than Rio de Janeiro, the city of Castries and its harbour in the basin below.
Utter peace. The world seemed a perfect place; a drink perhaps. A vain attempt to read the menu in the fading light before assistance in the form of ‘Thine Host’, or even Rosie the Chef, came to assist and recommend. It was a place of supreme elegance, a taste of intoxicating history.
The walls were thick. The shutters were solid slabs that seemed capable of keeping at bay the strongest of winds. The clean but ancient toilets, which were quaintly situated adjacent to the kitchen, allowed the inquisitive urinator an opportunity to eavesdrop on culinary chatter amidst the clatter of pots and pans diligently doing their duty.
In those heady days, the world economy was rushing headlong along seemingly endless, petaled paths redolent with the scents and perfumes of success. Wars might have been raging elsewhere in the world, but in this secluded Garden of Eden all was peace and calm, which, by the way, reminds me that there was a small garden terrace behind the bar, a sort of secret lovers’ bower made for trysts, where curious visitors were warned not to stray too far for fear of slumbering snakes.
And then it came to an end – quite suddenly it seemed, though for those involved it was almost certainly a long-drawn-out, perhaps painful process. The restaurant was no more, and my days of imagined conversations with novelists of yore were over.
Do any of you remember Pat’s Pub in Rodney Bay, or Shamrock’s, the A-Frame or the Bistro? They’ve gone, all gone. Perhaps it’s time to leave too; to close up shop before the bailiff comes to evict us.