ISTANBUL: Soho House and beyond

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The splendid bar at Soho House, Istanbul

I was aware, after a few paces, that my wife was no longer at my side. She had stopped dead, like a show jumper pulled up at a particularly intimidating fence. I turned and instantly recognised her expression: I’m not going down there. I glanced back up the road we had been walking along and saw it through her eyes. Dark, damp, derelict, with just the occasional shadowy figure in a doorway, half-lit by the glow of his cigarette. We were in Karakoy, Istanbul, just north of the Galata Bridge, and I was beginning to think I had been sold a pup.
The evening had started with the exact opposite sensation – how did this all get so smart? The last time I was in the city, the streets of the Beygolu district around the Pera Palace were certainly showing strong signs of gentrification, but now it was buffed to a Mayfair-quality high sheen. It was here, after all, that was chosen for the siting of the latest, and biggest, Soho House (00 90 212 377 7100, http://www.sohohouseistanbul.com), bang next door to the Pera. Now, you might think another outpost (London, New York, L.A., Berlin, Miami..) of this members-only media menagerie is hardly worth a raised eyebrow, but this one is pretty spectacular. It is housed in the former US consulate, and Uncle Sam lived in style in those days – soaring ceilings, sweeping staircases, wrought iron balustrades, elaborate ceilings, opulent drapes, and triple-height doors. Actually, I doubt the Americans had tricked out this former merchant’s palace quite as smartly as Nick Jones’s SH team. There is a grand first floor bar that is buzzier than a beekeeper’s convention, a stunning roof terrace, and plenty of divans for elegant lounging. The only problem is that, even if you are a member, you can’t stay there.

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Accommodation, you see, is not in the historic clubhouse (on the left, above), but in The Glasshouse annexe (just visible on the right, above), a modern see-through cube next door, itself pretty striking, but no palazzo. Booking a room (£200 and up) does get you access to all the members’ facilities in the clubhouse and, come summer, there will be two rooftop pools in the Glasshouse to paddle about in. The 87 rooms themselves are decorated in the International Groovy Style – carved wooden headboards, rolltop bath at the foot of bed, interesting artworks, incredibly generous bottles of bathroom amenities and all the required hi-tech conveniences at the touch of .. well, quite a lot of buttons. Even if you don’t stay, the retro fifties-style Alice Bar downstairs is open to the hoi polloi, so you too can sit around musing about when you were at Milan Fashion Week. Nabbing an Asian-inspired, cucumber-infused G&T, served like a martini (£6.50), and people watching/earwigging is a good way to pass an hour. If it has a downside you have to accept that, stepping through the doors of either building, you are leaving Istanbul and entering SohoHouseWorld, where the staple diet is mac’n’cheese, the standard posture is hunched over a Mac Book Air and all conversations are obliged by house rules to begin “When I was at Sundance/South By South West/London Fashion Week..” Don’t get me wrong, I think they have done a great job and the palazzo is breathtaling, but with Soho Houses mooted to pop up all over the world, there is a slight danger that they could become a hipper version of a global brand like The Four Seasons – slick, well-run, comfortable, but ever-so-slightly familiar and predictable. Although there are cultural differences on display – as one staff member told me: ‘Here we have valet parking; in Shoreditch House we had a bike rack.’
When Soho House arrived in Shoreditch it put a stamp of approval on this once glum area, showing east London had arrived in the big league. Similarly, the Istanbul House marks a certain maturity in the Beygolu district, a sort of sophisticated middle age. But, as one neighbourhood settles into upmarket comfort, the lights go on in another, still edgy part of town. Which is how I came to be walking down a dark street in Karakoy with a reluctant wife in tow, looking for a bar that I had been recommended.
If you cross the Galata Bridge, heading away from the attractions of the Old Town – Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace – and turn left, you are in streets full of chain saws and angle grinders, bolt cutters and spanners – like a chaotic al fresco B&Q. Turn right, it’s all garish delis and sugar-rush sweet shops, but it is in the latter, eastern part, that you will find the latest batch of hip bars and restaurants. The first one you will see is probably Karaköy Lokantası (00 90 212 292 4455, http://www.karakoylokantasi.com) at 37A Kemankeş Caddesi. This is a bankers’ power-lunch favourite by day, a more funky tavern at night, serving well-executed traditional Ottoman food (mezzes, stuffed cabbage, veal stew) and reservations are essential – and I don’t mean when you get to the city, but probably several weeks in advance for Friday/Saturday. There is also a small and rather elegant nine-room guesthouse, Karakoy Rooms (00 90 212 252 5422, http://www.karakoyrooms.com, doubles from £110), just above it.
But reverse down the street a little and take a look at the really rather unassuming (in fact, scruffy) office block at number 31. Enter the foyer and the receptionist will point to the lift and say “Five” without even asking what you want. Because on the fifth floor is another popular dining room, Ferahfeza (00 90 212 243 5154, http://www.ferahfeza-ist.com), this one less traditional in style, with a Turkish and Italian menu mix (the lamb loin shish and beef shin pappardelle are both excellent). It comes with a terrace (covered in winter) that offers an appealing view over the water towards Topkapi but it also has that rarity in Istanbul – intimate lighting. Most restaurants are lit so brightly you could perform open-heart surgery or repair circuit boards in them – Ferahfeza is wonderfully easy on the eye, if not the wallet (allow £40-50pp). There’s an equally soft-lit bar area if you just fancy a drink.
It was from here we ventured further down the street, into what looked like a derelict part of town, but that gave way (after the scaffolding and gloom) to a cluster of bars, centered on the packed, art deco-inspired Café Bej (00 90 212 251 71 95) at 11 Kemankeş Caddesi, which has pavement tables, giving it an entirely apposite Parisian feel, being as it is on the corner of an alley known as French Pass (Fransiz Pasaji). In case you were wondering, this is where Istanbul’s beautiful-young-things-with-money have been hiding.

Cafe Bej

Cafe Bej

There’s more than just eating and drinking hereabouts – there’s sophisticated and witty gift shops such as Atolye 11 (47 Mumhane Caddesi) and Bej shares a space with ‘House of Paper’ aka Kagithane, which only sells items made of.. well, you can guess. There’s also coffee shops, cafes and art galleries aplenty and even an exquisitely restored, upmarket hammam dating from the 16th century, Kilic Ali Pasa (00 90 212 393 8010, http://www.kilicalipasahamami.com, from £38pp).
It all reminded me in feeling, if not physicality, of New York’s Meat Packing District twenty or so years ago, when it was on the cusp of gentrifying, just before.. wait, oh, yes, Soho House moved in. However, the agent of change for this part of Karakoy is likely to be the proposed new Galaport cruise terminal, scheduled to open nearby a couple of years hence. That will certainly alter the ambience, but for the moment, Karakoy East should definitely be on your Istanbul to-do list.

GETTING THERE
Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500, http://www.exclusiveescapes.co.uk) has three nights in the city from £850pp B&B, including flights, transfers and a free half-day guide (recommended – they jump the queues). I stayed on the Asian side at Sumahan on the Water, connected to the city (at transport hub Kabatas) by its own little shuttle boat, which also runs to the waterfront clubs/restaurants of Kurucesme just across the Bosphorus, which comes into its own in summer.

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A man, a boat, a bridge – the shuttle to Europe from Sumahan.

CANON FODDER: A “NEW” SHERLOCK HOLMES STORY

In the newly released Dr Watson Book 3, A Study in Murder, the poor doctor is incarcerated in the most feared POW camp in Germany. During his incarceration, he is asked to contribute to the camp magazine. During the process of writing the book, I decided that snippets of the story he creates should be interspersed throughout the novel. But which Holmes story to choose? Even casual fans are familiar with the Sherlock canon, so I decided against incorporating one of the 56 oft-told tales. I could have created a pastiche in the style of Conan Doyle, but I have always tried to avoid that pitfall (it is not as easy as it seems at first glance). My Watson books are, after all, styled after the simpler third-person narration of His Last Bow.

 

Illustration from The Lost Special in The Strand magazine

Illustration by Max Cowper for The Lost Special in The Strand magazine

In the end I decided to look beyond the canon and at the short stories which function as Apocrypha to the main body of work, where an unnamed ” amateur reasoner of some celebrity” appears. The stories are The Man With The Watches and The Lost Special, both of which appeared in The Strand Magazine and are sometimes included in collections of Sherlock Holmes stories compiled outside the UK (most French compendia include them). If I were to adapt one of those, I thought, using as much of Conan Doyle’s language as possible, I might have something that was only part pastiche – a New/Old Sherlock Holmes tale, unfamiliar to most readers.

Illustration by Frank Craig for The Man With The Watches from The Strand Magazine.

Illustration by Frank Craig for The Man With The Watches from The Strand Magazine.

So, I set about taking The Man With The Watches and turning it into a full-blown Sherlock Holmes story, albeit one where (as in A Study in Scarlet) much of the action takes place away from Baker St. Although I used only excerpts in the body of the the novel, the entire exercise is printed as an appendix in A Study in Murder. Conan Doyle’s story begins:

“There are many who will still bear in mind the singular circumstances which, under the heading of the Rugby Mystery, filled many columns of the daily Press in the spring of the year 1892. Coming as it did at a period of exceptional dullness, it attracted perhaps rather more attention than it deserved, but it offered to the public that mixture of the whimsical and the tragic which is most stimulating to the popular imagination. Interest drooped, however, when, after weeks of fruitless investigation, it was found that no final explanation of the facts was forthcoming, and the tragedy seemed from that time to the present to have finally taken its place in the dark catalogue of inexplicable and unexpiated crimes.”

One of the first things I had to do was change the date, for The Final Problem, in which Holmes goes over the Reichenbach Falls with Moriarty, was set in 1891. This was the beginning of the ‘Great Hiatus’, the years when Watson thought Holmes dead. I also borrowed some lines from other Sherlock stories to set the scene.

“It was April 1890 (and not 1892 as some accounts would have it), as the debilitating bone chill of a lengthy winter had finally begun to relax its grip on the metropolis, when my friend Sherlock Holmes turned his attention to what the daily press were the calling The Rugby Mystery and some others The Girl and the Gold Watches. Holmes had recently completed his investigation into a most gruesome business, involving jealousy and murder. The solution to the case had put him in a rather sombre mood. ‘What is the meaning of it, Watson?’ he had exclaimed, not for the first time. Peering into the darkest corners of the human soul often caused him to recoil in revulsion at the depravity of his fellow man. ‘What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever?’

Illustration for The Man With The Watches by Frank Craig.

Illustration for The Man With The Watches by Frank Craig.

That resultant brown study, a cloud of melancholia that wrapped itself around him like a winter fog, persisted for some weeks, to the point where I feared he might reach for solace once more in the seven per cent solution. I sought permission – freely granted – from my wife to move back to our rooms in Baker Street that I might keep an eye on him until the black dog was driven away. And sure enough, as the thermometer rose on a certain bright Monday morning, Holmes stirred himself from his regular position, curled on the sofa with a newspaper, and began to pace the floor of our Baker Street lodgings, a practice I knew sometimes drove Mrs Hudson on the floor below us to distraction, for it could last many hours.
I lowered my own newspaper – I was studying an article about the recent rash of card-sharping incidents across the city and the methods the fraudsters preferred – and peered at him. He looked like a freshly coiled spring and something burned in his eyes. I knew that look of old and it warmed my heart. ‘Yes, Watson, you are thinking that my hibernation is at an end.’
I felt a surge of relief course through me. ‘You don’t have to be the world’s only Consulting Detective to deduce that, Holmes.’
‘Quite so. But, as your faculties are in such good order, you’ll be well aware that we are about to have a visitor.’”

The visitor then proceeds to narrate the story (essentially a ‘locked room’ mystery set on a train) and the narrative follows Arthur Conan Doyle as closely as I could manage, using as many of his own words as possible. It is hoped my publishers Simon & Schuster will put the entire thing online as an e-story sometime this year.

A Study in Murder is out in hardback now.

CASSAVETES: THE JAZZ DETECTIVE

When Guy Barker and I were sketching out the idea for a piece called dZf – The Magic Flute relocated to Greenwich Village – one of our touchstones was a TV series called Johnny Staccato, which aired in the US from 1959-60. Starring John Cassavetes as a “jazz detective”, it was set in a Village jazz club called Waldo’s, and the title character was a pianist who moonlighted as a gumshoe. Or vice-versa.Unknown

The club setting (and the music played there) was crucial to us, but the only episode we managed to track down was one where the nightclub was temporarily shut down. Disappointing, to say the least. Now, though, if you have a multi-region DVD player you can enjoy all 27 episodes in the US re-issue below. And what a treat it is, from the opening credits on.

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The theme music is by Elmer Bernstein (‘The Magnificent Seven’), a punchy, braying wail of brass, a supercharged version of his work on The Sweet Smell of Success. The musicians playing at Waldo’s included Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Red Norvo, and pianist Johnny Williams (later John Williams, responsible for Star Wars, Jaws etc). Although set in the Village, nearly all the players were from the West Coast school of jazz, because, apart from a few exteriors, the series was actually filmed in LA.

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So how does it stand up? Well the scripts aren’t its strong point, but Cassavetes with his razor-sharp suits and matching cheek bones is excellent and there is something to savour in most episodes, not least Elizabeth Montgomery – Samantha in Bewitched – playing against type as a sexy femme fatale in Tempted. And the music is always great – Bernstein used three different ensembles- a big band of 25, a Birth of the Cool-sized 12-piece and an ensemble of six players  with vibes and trumpet to the fore. Listen out for a riff that sounds as if it could be a sketch for Lalo Schifrin’s later Mission Impossible theme.

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If you want to skip the visuals, the soundtrack is available on an 8-CD compilation called Jazz on Film: Crime Jazz, which also includes Lee Marvin’s M Squad, the Untouchables and, best of all, two CDs of Henry Mancini’s music from Peter Gunn.

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DR WATSON 3 – JUST A MONTH AWAY

The new cover for the next Dr Watson book, out in hardback on January 1, looks something like this:

Study in Murder HB

Those who have read The Dead Can Wait will know that towards the end the doctor found himself in a precarious situation. In A Study in Murder, he is in a German POW camp. It also sees the (un)welcome return of Miss Pillbody, the sadistic “She Wolf” and Von Bork, the German spy from His Last Bow, the Conan Doyle story that kickstarted this whole series. To pass the time while incarcerated, Watson writes a new Holmes story for the camp magazine, and that will be included at the end of the book.  I modified an existing non-canonical ACD tale. making Watson the narrator and placing Holmes in the action, so it is a new/old Sherlock tale, mostly using Conan Doyle’s original text. More on that nearer the time.

24 HOURS IN SOHO @BBCCO

 On Tuesday 18th November the BBC Concert Orchestra will be performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Trish Clowes, Norma Winstone and Guy Barker as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. It is also being broadcast live on BBC3. My contribution was to produce a narrative for Guy’s new composition. An outline of that will appear in the concert programme, but this a more comprehensive version of what went into the creation of his Soho Symphony.

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Earlier this year, I received a phone call from Guy Barker, saying he had a hankering to write a new orchestral piece for the BBC Concert Orchestra (he is Associate Composer there). However, he was staring at a blank page and needed a framework. We have done this before, with dZf, a re-working of the Magic Flute, and last year That Obscure Hurt, a Henry James/Britten-inspired piece. I give Guy a narrative; he builds his music around it. This time all he had was ‘Soho’ as a theme.

Guy wanted to mention and somehow reference in the piece some of his formative and favourite places and people and we came up with a very long list, most of which involved alcohol (often at the much-lamented Black Gardenia, above) or music or frequently both. And so I wrote a short story that is (very, very loosely) inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, about a boy failing to meet a girl and spending 24 hours wandering around the streets of Soho, among its ghosts, its music and its memories. Of course, once subjected to the alchemy of Guy Barker, where base stories become musically precious, things changed. So here is a guide to the thematic waymarkers in the piece, which consists of seven (part six is divided into two) sections.

  1. BACON & BOHEMIA

I opened the story with our hero living in Fitrovia and being disturbed by the smell of breakfast:

  “I am always woken early by the smell of bacon, climbing the stairs from the kitchen below, wafting under the door like a fog of temptation, tickling my nose. So I always awake with a craving for a bacon butty. But I don’t mind the premature start today. I have a date with a beautiful woman. 8am. Bar Italia.”

But it is well before the appointed hour and in this section Guy conjures up a stroll through the streets of Soho before sunrise. Bottles roll in the gutters, the garbage trucks patrol the alleys, many of the area’s characters are just waking up, others going to bed – some tired and happy, others reflecting on a night gone awry. The boy wanders down Wardour St, killing time, looking at film posters in the production houses, listening to the ‘dawn chorus’ chatter of stall-holders in Berwick St, until it is time for coffee on Frith St.

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  1. MOZART & MOCHA

The music here takes on a frantic quality. On the way to Bar Italia for his rendezvous he confronts the tide of workers rushing into the area, marching to their desks and workstations and shop floors, a mass of humanity on the move, blocking and knocking him, until he turns the corner sees Bar Italia (and the music takes on a touch of Fellini-esque romance).

A dominant 7th chord announces his sanctuary in this slice of La Dolce Vita, with cheeky Italian barmen serving him ‘the best espresso in town’. And serving it again. And again. No girl yet. More coffee? Why not?

Nerves jangling from too much caffeine, he leaves the bar and looks up, noticing the blue plaque declaring that a young Mozart once lived on Frith St. Here, the orchestra gradually falls away to leave a string quartet, which plays 12 bars derived a short Mozart piano piece composed by Mozart when was four.

His limbs jerky from his espresso-overload, the boy struts up Frith, past Ronnie Scott’s, Garlic & Shots, the Dog & Duck, until he comes to Soho Square, and thinks of Fifis.

  1. FAITH & FIFIS

A ‘Fifi’ was the slang name for the working girls, often of French or Belgian extraction (or pretending to be), who inhabited Soho in the pre- and post-war years.

“I light a cigarette and lean against the railings outside Église Protestante Française de Londres, the last Huguenot church in London. Would the Fifis have worshipped here? Probably not, most of those girls who came over in the ‘30s, 40s and ‘50s would have been Catholic, I guess. I look across to St Patrick’s, where maybe the Fifis confessed their sins and along to the House of St Barnabas, once a charitable organization for émigrés run by nuns, then, post-WW2, a women’s hostel, where I am sure the odd Fifi would have fetched up.”

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These thoughts on religion are suggested by a brass chorale. But it moves on to something darker, for Soho in the thirties had its own version of Jack the Ripper or the Boston Strangler – a serial killer was at work, with victims in Archer, Lexington, Rupert, Old Compton and Wardour streets, all strangled with their own silk stockings. “Jack the Strangler” was never caught.

Musing on this, he sees the ghosts of the dead Fifis, grey, pale-faced corpses. As the instruction to the orchestra on the score has it: ‘Soho Square has become an open air charnel house’.

  1. RHYTHM, BLUES & BEYOND

What Guy calls a ‘psychedelic’ start signals a section where the boy is moving from Soho Square, considering drowning his sorrows at being stood up, and thinking of all the drinking and music clubs in Soho. But on his travels he comes across Jeffery Bernard, furious at just being barred from the Colony Room, who marches him to the Coach & Horses, where Norman, the rudest landlord in London, plies them with gin and insults. Further enraged by the drink, Jeff marches off (which you’ll hear clearly in the music) and ‘borrows’ a window cleaner’s ladder. He takes it to outside 41 Dean St and leans it against the first floor window. He scuttles up it. Bangs on the glass. When the window is open he addresses those (the Bacons and the Farsons) gathered within: ‘You are all a bunch of…’

And off Jeff goes, sliding down the ladder and marching off again, the young man in tow. Here, a bluesy 12/8 section suggests the other type of club in Soho, the music ones, especially the Flamingo, and Georgie Fame’s R&B all-nighters.

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They pass by Kettner’s, where two men dressed in black are at work – Kenny Clayton is playing stride piano, Bill Mitchell singing. From there Jeff doubles back, heading for Jerry’s, the other famous Soho haunt of the alcoholically adventurous, and when he reaches it, there is a slowing of the music, signalling his now weary descent down the stairs into the warm, crepuscular embrace of the drinking den.

  1. GIG & GIRLS

Later, much later, there is a head that needs clearing, and our boy walks towards Archer St, which he finds populated by musical ghosts. As it is explained in the story:

“From the twenties through to the sixties, jazz musicians would crowd this street. Wall to wall it was. The snooty London Orchestral Association had it headquarters there. And they wouldn’t allow dance band musicians in. Too populist, you see. But outside, in this street here, it was like a musicians’ Labour Exchange. You wanted a gig or to get paid or to hear the gossip, you came down here.”

 

Archer Street

Archer Street

So you will hear this in a section reminiscent of the bright, optimistic hustle and bustle of a Pathé News reel, as the musicians crowd the streets, shooting the breeze and a line, until.. hold the phone, what’s this? Romance – or at least sex – has raised its pretty head in the score.

Archer St, you see, intersects with Windmill St, and musicians always used for the doorways that allowed them to see the famous Windmill Girls come and go. There were other women there, too. As Ronnie Scott put it years later: “These days you’d call them groupies. Back then we just thought of them as jolly good sports.”

Fired up by such thoughts, the lad, still the worse for wear, hightails it back to Dean St and Sunset Strip, one of the few remaining original strip club for which the area was once notorious. What you might call “Music To Disrobe By” is a feature in this section, with appropriate – or perhaps inappropriate – contributions from the orchestra.

 

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  1. A GIRL, A GARDENIA & A GAGGIA

 a. A PEARL ON DEAN

Sobriety brings self-loathing. He doesn’t want to see girls, naked or otherwise he wants to see A particular girl.

Leaving the club, he sprints up Dean St, towards the Black Gardenia where he first met her, and BOOM! There she is, standing outside in all her tattooed glory. They speak, sweetly.

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And he discovers he has been an idiot. When she said she’d meet him ‘a week today’ for an early coffee, it was well after midnight – but he was thinking of the previous day, when he had started the evening. He had turned up at the Bar Italia 24 hours too early.

After a drink at the Gardenia, they go back to Frith St, where those cheeky barmen are still serving the best espresso in town.

b) ESPRESSO SUNRISE

And so, exactly 24 hours after he left his flat in Fitzrovia, they walk out of the Bar Italia together, into the promise of a Soho dawn. The day has come full circle, and so has the piece.

 

 

MY WEEKEND WITH WATSON…

.. and with Sherlock, of course. The Times recently ran a piece of mine on Sherlock’s London. In fact, I wrote two versions of the story, the published piece and a second more prescriptive one on how to plan a weekend around the splendid Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Museum of London at the Barbican (www.museumoflondon.org.uk). Given the global popularity of the series, a significant percentage of visitors are expected to come from outside London – so the idea was to help those not familiar with the city find other Sherlock sites. It does have some different recommendations from The Times piece, so I thought I’d reproduce it here.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” (A Study in Scarlet)

With the game afoot, your first port of call on arriving in London is to proceed at once to the Henry VIII Gate of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at Smithfields and its small museum (bartshealth.nhs.uk), which closes at 4pm. As well as a history of the hospital – where Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) spent some time – the museum contains a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Holmes and Watson in the building, donated in 1953 by the Baker St Irregulars, a venerable conglomerate of Holmes aficionados.

The original Reichenbach fall

The original Reichenbach fall

But, of course, this was also the location for Sherlock’s dramatic fall from the roof in the BBC’s Reichenbach Fall episode, which led to the red phone box near the gate being plastered in “Believe in Sherlock” post-it notes. Also check the website of the spectacular glass-roofed triple-tiered Pathology Museum (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/bartspathology/) in the same complex, a gruesome yet fascinating insight into medicine in ACD’s day – he is rumoured to have penned some of his stories in the curator’s office. Sadly, it is only open to the public for special evening events and some afternoons but the website makes clear the Sherlock connection.
From St Bart’s it’s but a short stroll to The Museum of London (150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN) for “The Man Who Never lived And Will Never Die” (£12/£10) exhibition, which runs until April 2015.

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

FRIDAY EVENING: “I think that something nutritious at Simpson’s would not be out of place.” (The Dying Detective)

Where to eat like Sherlock? Try Simpson’s-In-The Strand (100 Strand, 7836 9112, 020 7836 9112, simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk) one of London’s most traditional and sumptuous dining rooms, pretty much unchanged since ACD’s time, when it was mention in the Dying Detective and The Illustrious Client. Famed for its carved roasts, the closest thing approaching a bargain here is the Fixed Price menu, served early evening until 7pm (not Saturdays or Sundays), £25.75 plus service. Ask for a window seat to emulate Watson ‘looking down at the rushing stream of life in the Strand’ and wear your best bib and tucker.

SATURDAY MORNING: ”It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London” (The Red-Headed League)

An early start at Speedy’s Sandwich Bar and Café (187 N Gower St, 020 7383 3485, speedyscafe.co.uk) near Euston, a humble caff that has, thanks to its new incarnation as 221b Baker Street’s neighbour in the Cumberbatch/Freeman series, become an unlikely tourist attraction. Here you can dine on a Sherlock (chicken and cheese) or a Watson (veggie, both £4.10) wrap or just fill up on a traditional breakfast (it opens 6.30am weekdays, 7.30am Saturdays). From there, travel to Piccadilly and the Criterion Restaurant, where Watson first heard from Stamford the name of the man who would change his world forever. This is the meeting point for Britmovie’s “In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes” walking tour (11am, britmovietours.com, £12). It concentrates mostly on the BBC series and recent Guy Ritchie movies, although it does include the site of the Strand magazine, as well as the memorabilia-packed Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Avenue (sherlockholmespub.com), with its Hound of the Baskervilles association and recreation of the sitting room of 221b Baker St upstairs. It’s a good spot for a pint of Watson’s Wallop or Sherlock Holmes Ale after the tour ends at Somerset House (a Robert Downey Jr. location). London Walks (walks.com) also offers a two-hour Sherlock tour on Friday afternoons at 2pm (£9), which concentrates a little more on the ‘canon’ of ACD stories and finishes up at the same pub.

"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting.."

“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting..”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: “The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221b Baker Street.” (Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s Sherlock)
One of the most famous addresses in the world has had a complex history – suffice it to say there was no 221 when ACD wrote his stories. Most people know that the subsequently designated 221 was once the Abbey National HQ, but no longer. The Sherlock Holmes Museum (020 7224 3688, sherlock-holmes.co.uk, £10/£8) bills itself as at 221b, although it is actually at 239, but the townhouse is very similar to the one described in the stories. Some visitors find the museum’s exhibits to be authentically and atmospherically Victorian and Holmesian, others think shabby and careworn nearer the mark, but it certainly has a well-stocked gift shop. Be warned, there can be long queues – you might want to save it for early Sunday (9.30am opening). There is also a ‘talking’ statue of Holmes (see talkingstatues.co.uk) outside Baker St Station, with a script by Anthony Horowitz (House of Silk, Moriarty) and voiced by Ed Stoppard – you’ll need a smartphone to activate the call from Sherlock.

SATURDAY EVENING: “You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet – perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.” (A Study in Scarlet)
Back to the lavishly ceilinged Criterion on Piccadilly Circus for an early evening drink – the bar is a better bet than the dining room – and its plaque commemorating Watson first being told of Holmes and his eccentricities.

Ernest Dudley Heath, Piccadilly Circus at Night, 1893

The Long Bar stills serves a couple of cocktail recipes created here by barman Leo Engel in the late 19th century. Try a Reviver – American whiskey, angostura bitters, lemon juice, soda (£8). Then take a leaf from Benedict Cumberbatch’s book and choose one of his Soho faves – Viet (34 Greek St, 020 7494 9888) for a steaming bowl of pho, Yalla Yalla (1 Green’s Court, 020 7287 7663, yall-yalla.co.uk) for Lebanese or Tapas Brindisa (46 Broadwick St, 020 7534 1690, brindisa.com), which featured in the first Sherlock episode A Study in Pink.

SUNDAY: “I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots.’ Have you heard the De Reszkes?” (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

The Covent Garden area features in several Holmes stories – the Christmas goose at the heart of the Blue Carbuncle is bought in the market and Holmes solves the mystery of The Man With The Twisted Lip at Bow Street Magistrates. Holmes and Watson attend a performance of Wagner in The Red Circle at The Royal Opera House (020-7304 4000, roh.org.uk), where he would also have seen the Polish tenor Jean de Reske mentioned above. On selected Sunday morning, the House offers tours at 10.30am (75 mins, £12) of the beautiful auditorium and its backstage areas.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

Alternatively, see a live performance of the German music Holmes loved. Sadly, St James Hall on Regent St, Sherlock’s other favourite music venue, no longer exists, but he (and ACD) would have been to the Renaissance-styled Bechstein Hall on Wigmore St, which was a showcase for the piano company, but during WW1 was renamed as the less Germanic Wigmore Hall. It puts on Sunday Morning recitals of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven etc for £12.50, including coffee or sherry. You can stroll afterwards to Upper Wimpole St where, at No2, a plaque indicates the ophthalmic practice that ACD set up in 1891, the year the first six Strand Holmes stories were published, and afterwards visit Marylebone Farmer’s Market (lfm.org.uk/markets/marylebone/) – another Cumberbatch favourite.

WHERE TO STAY: The Park Plaza chain, which includes the Sherlock Holmes Hotel at 108 Baker St – which is not, despite the name, especially themed – has a London Museum Sherlock Exhibition Package at all its properties in the capital. It costs from £188 per room per night, including B&B, two exhibition tickets with exclusive fast track anytime entry, a souvenir book and 10% discount on purchases in the Museum’s gift shop. Details: 0800-169 6128, parkplaza.com.

The Sign of Four , Australian Film Poster 1923

The Langham, opposite the BBC on Portland Place, is an important hotel in Holmes lore (it was where ACD was commissioned to write The Sign of Four, Sherlock’s second adventure, when he dined with Oscar Wilde in 1889) and features in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and The Sign of Four. It also has a package with two tickets, from £329 B&B per night (020 636 1000, london.langhamhotels.co.uk).

* Robert Ryan is the author of the novel The Dead Can Wait, which features Dr. Watson (Simon & Schuster, £7.99). Thanks to The Museum of London for the images.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AT THE MUSEUM OF LONDON

By early morning four-wheeler to the Museum of London, for the media preview of Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die, the museum’s major exhibition of all things Sherlockian with opens tomorrow (17th). You might think, given the continuing appetite for Holmes, this would be a shoo-in as a blockbuster event. But, as lead curator Alex Werner has said: ‘We found ourselves having to think hard about how you create an exhibition about a fictional character.’
That sentiment alone will raise some hackles. Werner does not subscribe to playing ‘The Great Game’, popular with many Sherlock Holmes societies around the world, in which all pretend that Watson, not Conan Doyle, wrote the stories and that Holmes was flesh and blood (albeit capable of Whovian-like regeneration). So you won’t find a reproduction of the sitting room at 212b Baker St, like the one at the Northumberland Arms near Charing Cross, complete with Persian slipper, violin and a copy of Bradshaw, claiming this was where Holmes tackled his three-pipe problems. Instead, the curators have assembled cabinets of the sort of artefacts Holmes might have come into contact with, without claiming the great man actually handled them (and so you will find an 18th century violin, a selection of service revolvers of the sort Watson and Holmes might have carried, and a case of drug paraphernalia of the correct period).

 

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Then there is question of which Holmes do you concentrate on when creating a show about the world’s only Consulting Detective? There will be some visitors who will be disappointed to find this is not a Cumberfest, although he does appear on screens and his Belstaff ‘Milford’ coat and his dressing gown (originally used by Conan Doyle to suggest Holmes’ “bohemian” qualities) are on display. But it is not a celebration of the BBC version of the Great Detective. In fact, nearly all the Holmes are represented, from the well-known (Brett, Cumberbatch, Rathbone) to the half-remembered (Ian Richardson, Christopher Plummer, Richard Roxburgh), the point being to demonstrate that no matter how many times he is re-imagined, re-located and re-booted, the immutable essence of Holmes lies within Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and four novels (rare examples of which are on display under glass). And, of course, it lies with the city where Holmes lived and so often worked.Unknown

This being the Museum of London it should come as no surprise that a large part of the show concentrates on the city that fed both Holmes and Conan Doyle, and it is very effective at conjuring up the gaslit, fog-bound streets that the author wrote about. Maps show Holmes and Watson’s movements about the city in several of the tales, and contemporary paintings of a hansom cab stand, the Strand, Piccadilly and “The Bayswater Omnibus” – shown above, as mentioned in The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter – give visual life to the architectural and cultural backdrop to many of the stories.
So Werner and his team have done an exemplary job of touching all the Holmes bases while maintaining a focus on the city that helped gave life to this remarkably resilient creation. Criticisms? Yes. Not enough Watson. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Dead can Wait PBB front cover

* Sherlock: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die” costs £12/£10 concessions (020 7001 9844, museumoflondon.org.uk/sherlock).