January 20, 2009 / 4:45 PM / 10 years ago

Nostalgic buyers snap up lots from the Cafe Royal

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Collectors keen to preserve a piece of London’s Cafe Royal, once a playground for the rich and famous which was recently forced to close, sent prices well above expectations at an auction on Tuesday.

A worker for Bonhams auctioneers poses under a chandelier at London's Cafe Royal December 22, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Bonhams auctioneer said the sale of memorabilia from the establishment frequented by Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and Princess Diana fetched 220,000 pounds ($307,000) including premium, against estimates of 90,000 pounds without the premium.

“The bidders were largely private individuals who had memories of celebrations at the Cafe Royal or some other personal link,” Bonhams said after the sale.

Cafe Royal was established in 1865 by Parisian wine merchant Daniel Nicolas who was on the run from a prison sentence imposed for bankruptcy in France.

It closed its doors for the last time in December, after the Crown Estate confirmed it planned to redevelop the part of Regent Street where the cafe was located.

It was the home of black tie boxing bouts, scene of an unsolved murder and a hangout for generations of the world’s top film stars, writers, artists, politicians and royals.

It is perhaps best known for its association with Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde, who would drink absinthe there and entertain guests including his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, clashed with Wilde over the relationship, and Wilde’s friends at the Cafe Royal tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him from going to court and pursuing libel proceedings.

Salacious details of Wilde’s private life emerged during the court case, and later he was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labor.

Among the top lots at the sale was an early 20th century Venetian glass chandelier, which sold for 15,600 pounds or over twice its expected price, and a grill serving trolley which sold for 12,000 pounds.

Its original boxing ring, however, fetched just 420 pounds versus expectations of around 5,000 pounds.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White

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