Politicians and journalists form co-op to buy Gay Hussar restaurant

A London restaurant, as famous for its shortcomings over the decades as its food, is up for sale – with devotees wanting to buy it to maintain its iconic status.

The Gay Hussar restaurant in London

The Gay Hussar restaurant in London Image by Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

The Gay Hussar’s admirers include an unlikely band of about 160 politicians and journalists, operating under the title The Goulash Co-operative, who want to literally make the place their own. The restaurant has gone onto the market with an asking price of £500,000 but the group have offered £225,000 in the only bid received so far for the establishment.

The New York Times reports that when it first opened 62 years ago, it became something of an exotic addition to the city’s Soho district. Since then, it has carved its own niche into Londoners’ psyche – good for lovers of dumplings, pancakes or goulash but less so if you happened to be a vegetarian or someone who preferred a low-carb serving.

It became known as a place where the ‘left’ congregated – Labour Party and trade union officials dined and debated in equal measure. Among its diners were former Labour leaders Micheal Foot and Neil Kinnock while former US politician Henry Kissinger and poet T. S. Eliot have also eaten there.

Like most things in life, the Gay Hussar fell out of favour in the nineties as the Blair era gravitated towards a different taste. That and political journalists' eschewing of the long, alcohol-fuelled lunch had its impact on business. However, there is life in the political lunch yet and enter Tom Watson, honorary president of the Goulash Co-operative and a prominent Labour figure. Having finished a meal, he agreed that if the coop manages to secure the place, it will have to come up with a lighter lunch option. The group also plans to use the building’s upper floors for literary and political events.

Victor Sassie, the Gay Hussar’s founder, died 16 years ago and now the current owners, Corus Hotels, have put it up for sale because it is losing money. Andrew Clayton, managing director of Corus Hotels said the group had kept the iconic restaurant open even though it had been a loss-maker. “I think we deserve a bit of credit for that.”

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