Surf's Up (No Sunscreen Needed) (The New York Times 10/20/96)

You see those two blokes who just walked in?” said Olli Vigors, an owner of Vingt Quatre, London’s only 24-hour cafe. “One’s an earl, and the other is a doorman.”

They were just two of the many who have lately been spotted at Vingt Quatre and the five other restaurants and clubs in southwest London that make up the Beach — a bustling, half-block area along Fulham Road near Sloane Square.

“I can’t think of another area in London where I can do so many things in one spot,” Christopher Dorrian, a banker working in London, said of the area, in the high-rent borough of Chelsea and Kensington. His father, Jack Dorrian, owns Dorrian’s Red Hand restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In the 1800′s, when London residents sought diversion, they flocked to the nearby Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. Today, they head for the Beach. Although there is no sand or boardwalk in the area, the stretch is so named because, when the crowds go from one establishment to the next, they appear to be surfing.

Simon Mills, a magazine writer for The Sunday Times of London, who has chronicled the development of the area, said: “You never used to see aristocrats hanging out this way. It’s remarkable how quickly the scene has come together. Suddenly, the Beach has come to be the place to be.”

Tim Romney-Day, a night manager at Vingt Quatre, described the area as “the hub of the hub.” He called it “the buzzing organ of London.” Mr. Romney-Day, 26, whose ambition is to become a painter, said the area’s fun-loving, nonstop atmosphere was attracting people of all walks from all over the world.

Outside the restaurant on a recent weekday evening, two young men wearing Savile Row blazers and Thomas Pink shirts were chatting on their mobile telephones while about 100 people waited for admission to Kartouche’s Basement Pub, which sits below the restaurant Kartouche, a mixed-cuisine restaurant next to Vingt Quatre.

“We’re all in this together,” said Tarquil MacLeod, the manager of Kartouche.

Kartouche has attained celebrity status in the two years since word of the Beach began spreading. It is the place where Jemima Goldsmith, the socialite daughter of the billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith, met the man who would become her husband, Imran Khan, a Pakistani living in England who had gained fame as a cricket player and playboy. Kartouche is also a favorite of Tamara Beckwith, London’s most famous T.F.B., or “trust fund baby,” as some British wits call those who gain their wealth through inheritance.

After dinner, many Beachcombers head for the King’s Club, the home of the Mark Robson Bridge Club by day but a private bar and miniature disco by night.

Fiona Shapcott, the club’s hostess, presides over the evening activities. “People come here because they feel at home,” she said on a recent Thursday, dubbed “’70s Night” at the club. As Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” played in the background, the click of the balls on the pool table in the rear of the club could be heard.

Next door, at the Goat and Boots, a recently renovated pub, patrons spent the evening downing beer and shots and watching big-screen television. Also on the block is Christoph’s, a restaurant that opened in May. Albert Finney, the actor, was recently spotted there dining on salmon and snapper with a small circle of theatrical friends.

Flossie Montgomery, a young Irish-born waitress and aspiring actress at the restaurant, watched the scene from nearby. “It’s so much fun to work at the Beach,” Ms. Montgomery said. “I wouldn’t think of working anywhere else.”

Janet Evans, a former New Yorker, would agree. She has opened a bar called Janet’s within a block of the Beach front, and she hopes it will draw from that scene.

“It sort of reminds you of Columbus Avenue, doesn’t it?” she said, as the surging crowd could be seen outside the Goat and Boots.

This increased activity has not presented any problems for the local authorities. Inspector Steve Hammerton of the Metropolitan Police said there had been no significant rise in complaints about the Beach or along Fulham Road. “When you keep in mind that this is one of the few areas of London where people are willing to queue up to get into a restaurant, it really has been quite peaceful,” he added.

The final stop in the area for most revelers is Vingt Quatre, which may well be the world’s only cafe with a doorman. Recent sightings include Simon LeBon of Duran Duran and his wife, Yasmin; the actresses Elizabeth Hurley and Sandra Bullock, and the actor Chris O’Donnell.

“Two years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of living here,” said Henrietta Graham, a painter, who rents a studio above Vingt Quatre. As she joined Mr. Vigors, Alex Pearce and Joel Cadbury, Vingt’s owners, for breakfast one morning, a television crew was next door in front of the Goat and Boots filming a segment of the comedy Absolutely Fabulous, featuring a garrishly dressed Joanna Lumley.

“It was just these tired old pasta and burger joints — the pits,” Ms. Graham said. “Now I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. It’s so nice to be able to come down from my painting and see all this wonderful commotion. It’s brilliant, don’t you think?”

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