Simpson's-in-the-Strand is one of London's most renowned traditional English restaurants, and banqueting suites. Situated in one of the capital's famous streets, The Strand, it is part of the Savoy Buildings, which include possibly the world's most famous hostelry, the Savoy Hotel. It also played an important role in the development of chess in the 19th century.
The site began as the Fountain Tavern, home to the celebrated literary group Kit-Cat Club, but was replaced by the Grand Cigar Divan by Samuel Reiss which opened in 1828. The Divan soon became a thriving coffee house, almost a club, among London gentlemen with members paying one guinea a year for use of the facilities. Patrons smoked, read their newspapers at leisure, and played chess while reclining on divans.
Right from its early years the house was a popular recreational chess venue, and games of chess were even frequently played against other local coffee houses, with runners hired to deliver each move as it was made.
In 1848, Reiss joined forces with the caterer John Simpson to expand the premises, renaming it 'Simpson's Grand Divan Tavern'. It was soon established as one of the top London restaurants noted for using solely British produce: sirloins of beef and saddles of mutton, served from silver-topped trolleys (some of which are still in use today), and carved at the table for each individual guest. It became an established attraction and patrons included Charles Dickens, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.
Just as Wimbledon is considered the home of tennis and Lord's the home of cricket, Simpson's can justifiably claim the equivalent title for chess. Almost all of the top players of the 19th century played there at some stage: Wilhelm Steinitz, Paul Morphy, Emmanuel Lasker, Johannes Zukertort (who had a fatal stroke whilst playing there), and Siegbert Tarrasch to name but a few.
It was in Simpson's in 1851 that one of the world's great games, the famous "Immortal Game", was played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. It also hosted the great tournaments of 1883 and 1899, and the first ever women's international in 1897.
The advent of the automobile and the need to widen The Strand caused Simpson's to close temporarily in 1903 upon its acquisition by the Savoy Group, and upon its reopening a year later, renamed "Simpson's-in-the-Strand", chess was no longer permitted on the site. This event alone was sufficient to shift the centre of the chess world away from London permanently, with similar clubs in Vienna and Berlin filling its role. In September 2003 a small tournament was held there to celebrate the 175th anniversary of chess on the site, and named after the unofficial world champion during the 1840s and 50s, Howard Staunton. By 2006, the 4th Staunton Memorial was declared the strongest London all-play-all tournament since 1986, with high calibre grandmasters such as Michael Adams, Ivan Sokolov and Jan Timman competing. The 5th Staunton Memorial in 2007 featured a field of twelve players, six British and six Dutch.
During World War II Simpson's was severely hit by the shortage of butchers' meat, their celebrated sirloins of beef and saddles of mutton disappearing from the trolleys, not to be seen again in their full glory until long after the end of the war, Britain remaining on rations until 1954. Partial relief came with an agreement with Cameron of Lochiel to supply his venison from Scotland, as well as herrings for smoking.
Simpson's has only recently relaxed the rule forbidding women using the splendid panelled street-level dining-room at lunchtime. Previously ladies were asked to use the first floor (the floor above the ground floor) dining room which was specially decorated in pastel colours.
Also on the first floor is the magnificently decorated late-Victorian banqueting room which can comfortably seat in excess of 100 people. A further banquet room on the lower ground floor is in a more modern, 1930s, style. There are also two cocktail bars, the Knight's Bar on the first floor is a popular Art Deco styled piano cocktail bar, and a bar in The Bishop's Room, which is now only used for functions.