The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the crowded, compliant fish.
The decline of Cafe Mozart in Swains Lane, Dartmouth Park, seems much more dignified and transitory in comparison to that of the South Boston Aquarium in Robert Lowell’s poem For the Union Dead.
The windows are simply whitewashed from the inside – they are not broken or boarded. Yet two things about the cafe’s closure after 18 years drew me to remember this verse:
- The idea of wooden panels and violins being wrenched from the wall as bohemian modernism takes over from Viennese elegance (the clue is in the name)
- My strong childhood memories of the cafe – most notably the ordering of “moon biscuits”
Kalendar, the more modernish outfit next door, has owned Mozart for the past six years, after being started up by the latter’s former manager, who then expanded to the left. Now, his own style will be splashed across the empire rather than half of it bearing the decaying rickety grandeur of its former masters.
Swains Lane is just about as close as you can get to the embodiment of Cafe Culture. As the local dartmouthparkarati flow out of Meg’s News and into the Maddison-Dowek empire of Corks, Forks (what these sell is fairly self-explanatory) and antiques-orientated Baba, there must be room for a piece of cheesecake (baked or unbaked?) at Mozart. Surely! Coffee at an outside table with the Guardian? Nothing could beat.
And Swain’s Lane does everything. Including Green-party-posse meets the Labour boys.
Perhaps Mozart’s redeeming quality in the face of all of this was its charm, old-fashioned modesty and classical music. The sign in the window claims that there are too few Mozartians left. One regular told me this was likely a symptom of the dying-off of the generation of Eastern European – often Jewish – intellectual emigres, who want the Viennese calm rather than Blackberry-induced chattering class hype. Quite possibly true – the past year has seen the closure of Swiss Cottage’s incredible Hungarian patisserie – Louis’ – and the unsympathetic modernisation of Daquise in South Kensington.
One would hope that Mozart regular Charles Dance would don the wig he so superbly wore in the BBC’s adaptation of Bleak House (he played sinister lawyer Tulkinghorn) and mount a legal challenge.
Alack – the dartmouthparkarati have joined Twitter.