The last night I spent at the Hut followed the well-worn path of many of the evenings I’d spent down there before. I went with friends, and we ended up talking to a bunch of random people we’d never met before, exchanged numbers, all had a dance together, and laughed when someone took to the microphone for a passionate rendition of Mack the Knife with Dad accompanying them on the keyboard.
I had no idea as I left at 2am, joining others spilling out of the basement onto the pavement swimming with pools of yellow light and littered with bin bags restaurants had put out to be collected, that it would be the last night of revelry I’d spend tucked in her arms.
Tiroler Hut – the Hut – was my Dad’s first baby. Born in 1967, Dad nurtured The Hut through her infancy on what was then a dodgy road in Notting Hill until she was a strong old girl, able to withstand the odd quiet period because she was so greatly loved and because everyone – and I mean everyone – had a story of a night (mis)spent down there, and would return periodically. She was a neighbourhood establishment.
And then she burned down.
If you hadn’t been, here’s what the Hut was like. Once you’d descended the steps down into the little basement, your senses would be flooded. You’d hear music. Depending on what time you went down, it might be Dad playing the accordion, or might also be a din from diners stamping their feet along to a regular’s rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. Once your eyes had adjusted to the relative darkness, you’d see shiny beer pumps and many red gingham tablecloths.
Within the first five minutes down there, you’d probably find your hands would clamp around a heavy Stein glass, even if you had plans to stick to water. And once you were nestled in, you could expect to be there for a while; the Hut had a remarkable ability to coax people into staying later than intended – there was something about the atmosphere down there that made even the most stridently health conscious (me) kick back and give themselves over to the night.
Over a month on from the fire, the shock waves still continue to hit us all. The Hut was a member of our family, and each birthday, Christmas party, wake, engagement, promotion, break up, significant argument, and new romance was celebrated or commiserated there. We all feel quite lost without the pull of that anchor into the belly of Westbourne Grove, and the process of unearthing whatever can be salvaged from of the rubble and looking at the blackened relics has been an emotionally fraught experience.
My 81-year-old Dad spent six nights a week down there, hasn’t known a weekend in London without it. We’ve all tried to take our cue from him as he’s been astonishingly brave, treating disaster, to borrow from Kipling, precisely the same as he does triumph, finding purpose in every day, filling his free time with playing music, and trying to carry on as best he can.
When struggling, he has found some solace in spending some of those now-empty nights in the company of the extended Hut family; it seems to have proven true that tragedy distills character, and as it turns out, many good eggs frequented the Hut (and, sadly, a few morally bankrupt characters, too, but the less said about them, the better).
And while looking at the positives, we’re all of course well aware that it could have been much worse. Nobody died, and only one person suffered from smoke inhalation. Businesses were ruined, and flats evacuated, and while those things are disruptive and upsetting, it is perhaps the best outcome after a major fire. We don’t yet know the cause, or, indeed, whether the fire even originated in the Hut, and while we hope to reopen at the same location in time, the future for the old girl is not yet secure.
Whatever happens, I am pouring stories onto a page in the hope of bringing the Hut to life somewhere (a book, maybe? let’s see) while we regroup, and also wanted to park a little sliver of the Hut in all my online spots until I can perhaps set foot in the Hut 2.0, a place I hope will be populated by the very same amazing and eccentric people who spent their nights within the walls of the original Hut, creating uniquely fun and often quite frankly bonkers memories.