…I will be there, my dear De Hem,/to wish you well and sample them.”: quatrain by George Sims (1847-1922), English journalist, poet, dramatist, novelist and bon vivant. The rhyme refers to the common proverb that it is only safe to eat oysters when there is an R in the name of the month — after the hot summer months from May to August.
“De Hems is a café, pub and oyster-house in the Chinatown area of London just off Shaftesbury Avenue. It made its name purveying oysters and now sells beers from the Low countries such as Grolsch and Heineken with Dutch food such as bitterballen and frikandellen.
It is on the site of the Horse & Dolphin coaching inn which was built in 1685 and had been owned by bare-knuckle boxer Bill Richmond in the early 19th century. This was rebuilt in 1890 by the accomplished pub architects, Saville and Martin, for the publican, Mr Crimmen. It was renamed The Macclesfield, being in Macclesfield Street, and was soon leased by a retired Dutch sea captain called “Papa” De Hem who ran it as an oyster-house, charging a shilling and fourpence ha’penny for a serving.
It was patronised by fin-de-siècle literati such as the poet Swinburne, who travelled 10 miles daily to eat oysters at the long marble bar…
The Shell Room upstairs (was) created from the discarded oyster shells which decorated its walls — some 300,000 at their peak. Only a few now remain but the bar now claims to sell a similar number of pints of Oranjeboom each year.
In the early 20th century, literary figures such as Clemence Dane continued to purchase the establishment’s oysters, stout and champagne for their theatrical celebrations. In the 1920s, it became the hangout of gangsters too. When World War I started, patriotic Papa De Hem gave his staff £50 each to return to their threatened country. During World War II, after Holland actually fell to the German invasion, Dutch resistance exiles then met regularly at the pub which became their unofficial headquarters. Another patron at that time was the notorious spy, Kim Philby, who was friendly with the chef, who wore a tall white hat. (Escoffier.edu: In her book “Passion of a Foodie,” author Heidemarie Vos dispels the notion that hats were used simply to keep a chef’s hair out of his face or the food. Instead, long before the French adopted the hats, one popular origin story dates back to circa 146 BCE, when the Byzantine Empire invaded Greece. When the invasion forces landed, Greek chefs fled to nearby monasteries for protection, eventually wearing the garb of the monks to fit in. That included a large stovepipe hat. Even after the Byzantines were driven back, Greek chefs continued to wear the hats as a form of rebellion and a sign of solidarity. It’s perhaps that symbolism and sense of fraternity, Vos argued, that led other chefs, including the French, to adopt the hats in their own uniform.)
In 1959, it was renamed De Hems in honour of the captain and then, in the 1960s, it became popular with music industry people such as Alan Price, Georgie Fame and Andrew Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. At the turn of the new century, the venue hosted a comedy club — the Oranje Boom-Boom Cabaret — which included the debut of The Mighty Boosh.
In the early 21st century, De Hems was popular as a place to celebrate and follow the successful Dutch football team…”