Updated: Jan 22, 2019
I think I was maybe 13 or 14 when I saw a commercial on the Travel Channel advertising an upcoming show that went underground Portland to reveal it's history of Shanghai'ing. I didn't watch it; I wasn't that interested, but ever since then I have always wondered what's below me. Today I am in London wandering the city, despite being surrounded by beautiful architecture I can't help but think about what's under my feet. In a city so ancient it must be interesting.
Short of looking for a Travel Channel documentary on the subject I may never actually know much, but the imagination is all part of the fun. Today I will get to see a little glimpse of what's below - a few people have told me to check out Brasserie Zédel. It is supposed to be a great surprise hidden under Piccadilly Circus, a perfectly preserved gem on European Art-Deco. No one has mentioned the food, I am not sure if that's because its terrible, or because people know I care more about the atmosphere than food.
I tend to keep it a bit of secret, but I have always been enamored by Art-Deco. It is a bit of faux-pas in academic architecture circles, but I can't help myself. If you go into the great halls of 1920's America you can't help but feel it was built by a people on top of the world. It brims with energy and excess. Yes, they often go a little too far, but they're delightful. They're playful in a way that earlier classical buildings could never have hoped to be; the Deco buildings were designed to host a nation truly at play, perhaps for the first time. They were still imitative of European architecture, but the culture they were built to house was quickly coming into its own. Their construction took place in the very last moment before the USA took over as a clear world superpower.
Art Deco in Europe has a different feel entirely. Where the American version is riotously fun and materially sometimes a little phony, that in London and Paris is super rectilinear. It may appear a little more conservative than its American counter-part, but close inspection reveals it is constructed of some of the most sumptuous materials ever consumed in architecture. It's an exclusive architecture; it's a last breath by the great keeper of culture who, subconsciously and self-consciously knowing it's time to pass the torch, makes the decision to upstage its successor just one more time. In this regard, the Art Deco of Europe is a complete success. It's more sophisticated in every aspect. It's subtler; it's materially more important; it's more rooted and more forward looking at once; and in the end, it's even more appropriate for champagne drinking than its friends across the pond.
All that is to say Zédel's is beautiful. Next time you're in London forget about what's above ground and head downstairs.