Remembering the opening of Europe's longest bar, at London's St Pancras Station
Europe's longest bar, Searcy's Champagne Bar, has trains pulling up right alongside
You might have thought that St Pancras station was beautiful or quirky, but you would never have called it glamorous. Not until now, that is. With the opening of Europe's longest champagne bar - all 315ft of it, equivalent to four train carriages - St Pancras just got sexy.
I'm sitting at about the 180ft mark, on a brown leather banquette, heated to ward off the chill under the vast arches. The champagne is flowing, the oysters are sliding and, just feet away, behind a glass partition, a Eurostar train is easing its way down the platform - next stop Paris.
St Pancras International station is the UK terminus station for Eurostar services from Paris and Brussels
I confess that I'm from Derby, and St Pancras is my station. By that, I mean it's where the main line from Sheffield and the Midlands has terminated since it was built in 1868; where I alighted for college in 1983 (I never quite got around to going back on a permanent basis); where I ran along the platform, heading home for my brother's wedding; and where I queued in the cold, trying to get north in time for Christmas. It's not a place where I have ever drunk champagne.
Now there are more than 40 varieties from which to choose, from a glass of Jean-Paul Deville Carte Noire NV for £7.50 all the way to a bottle of Krug Collection 1949 for £2,700. There are just two bottles of that last one, kept in a nearby safe. Impulsives, please note - you'll have to allow 15-20 minutes after ordering for chilling.
If I'd asked for either of those drinks at the Shires - the old railway pub that was apologetically tucked away in a corner nook - I'd have got a black eye and 15 or 20 minutes of seeing stars. It was an unspeakably grotty place, serving scowls and poorly kept John Smith's bitter. The floor was sticky, the games machines were distracting and the meat pies were utterly miserable.
A crisp-suited waiter hands me the new bar's food menu, snapping me out of my reverie. There's a champagne breakfast at £17.50, with plates of canapés from £7.50 and open sandwiches from £6.50. Proper open sandwiches, these: not the train wrecks of mangled sausage, egg and ketchup that were scraped together at the old platform-side Traveller's Fare cafe, but "Gubbeen, heirloom tomato chutney on granary bread", no less.
The bar is on the platform level under the glorious Victorian roof
Ah, and here comes the 16.12 from Brussels, gliding along the platform. Through the windows, the passengers look excited, some a little stunned. They've had their Waterloo: nice though the curvy roof was, this entrance is as grand a station arrival as you'll find anywhere in the world. A little girl waves from the window and, caught in the spirit of the place, several diners on the next table wave back.
If I have one gripe, it's a selfish one: the country's and the Continent's gain is my loss. You see, next time I catch the train up to Derby, it won't actually depart from beside the champagne bar. No, no: services to the Midlands have been shunted to a new annex just beyond, where the vaulted ceiling, and the magic, stops.
Still, us Midlanders don't really mind being nudged out by Eurostar, and our platforms are only a short walk away. After some bubbly in style, the 12.04 to Sheffield will never be quite the same again. And who cares about the 12.04 to Sheffield, anyway? I'm definitely coming back here just to glam it up, sans train tickets.
The above article was published in the Sunday Times on the 18th of November 2007; the week of the bar's opening. Since then I have indeed returned - on many occasions - though usually when meeting friends and relatives visiting from the Midlands, including Sheffield.
The bar looks and feel pretty much as it did when it first opened, though I've found that sitting at the tables down the side of the train can mean slow service sometimes, especially at the beginning.
Getting there: St Pancras International Station is served by the Kings Cross St Pancras tube station, which is on the Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. See https://tfl.gov.uk/tube for station and tube line info.