The Fountain Tavern
In 1828, Samuel Reiss opened the Grand Cigar Divan on the site of the Fountain Tavern which had been the home of the famous literary association, the Kit Kat Club.
The establishment soon developed as a coffee house, where gentlemen smoked cigars with their coffee, browsed over the daily journals and newspapers, indulged in lengthy conversations about the politics of the day and played chess, sitting on comfortable divans or sofas. View photo!
The Grand Cigar Divan
Regular visitors would pay one guinea a year for the use of the facilities and cups of coffee. The daily entrance fee for others was 6d (2 1/2p) or 1/6d (71/2p) with coffee and a cigar.
Chess matches were played against other coffee houses in the town, with top-hatted runners carrying the news of each move. The Grand Cigar Divan soon became recognised as the Home of Chess in this country. Today, one of Simpson's original chess sets is displayed in the Bishop's Room. View photo!
A Bill of Fare
John Simpson introduced the practice of wheeling large joints of meat on silver dinner trolleys to each table and carving them in front of guests - a custom that is still upheld today. Shortly before his death in 1864, John Simpson sold the restaurant to Edmund William Cathie who was a great connoisseur of wines and cigars.
Cathie employed British Master Cook, Thomas Davey, who was perhaps the first of the kitchen autocrats. He insisted that everything in the restaurant be British. He even went so far as to remove the word "menu" and replace with "Bill of Fare". View photo!
The Savoy Group
In 1898 Richard DŽOyly Carte of the Savoy Group acquired Simpson's. It was closed in 1903 for redevelopment, when the Strand was widened, and reopened in 1904 under the name it bears today, Simpson's-in-the-Strand, Grand Divan Tavern. View photo!