Maureen Charlton enjoyed a taste of old Dublin in the city where James Joyce once lived
ONE THIRD of the way down the Bahnhofstrasse, that broad, elegant avenue running from the front of Zurich's Central Station, after which it is named, to the shores of the Zurichsee, a great lake stretching towards Chur and the Alps beyond, off a narrow side street you come upon an authentic piece of Edwardian Dublin the James Joyce Pub, named after one of the city's more illustrious exiles, who lived there between the years 1915 and 1920, and died there in 1941.
When you walk through the door of the hostelry in Pelikanstrasse, you get quite a shock. It is as if you are still in Dublin. Which in a sense you are.
When the old Jury's Hotel in Dame Street was demolished in the early Seventies to give way to modern urban development, it was agreed to spare the old interior of the antique bar and put it up for auction. Through the mediation of Swiss friends of Ireland it was ultimately acquired by the Union Bank of Switzerland and lovingly assembled in Zurich piece by piece.
Here is the long bar with its counter of thick burnished mahogany, the gleaming brass rail on which to rest one's feet, Art Nouveau tiling mingling with bevelled mirrors, refracting the myriad hues of upturned bottles.
Though a grave loss to Dublin and a reproach to our sense of history and lack of feeling for old style, there could hardly be a more fitting memorial to Joyce than this friendly and convivial establishment.
No one loved cafe and pub life more than James Joyce. In Zurich he made friends rapidly. By temperament something of a nomad, he frequently changed addresses, and in whatever quarter of the city he landed himself and his family, his talents as a wit, raconteur and drinker made him a favourite in the local watering holes.
In Zurich he chose first-class establishments. These included the Restaurant zum Roten Kreuz, the Cafe Terrasse, the Cafe Voltaire, frequented by early Surrealists such as Tzara and Hans Arp. He also acquired his love of Swiss wines, Fendant de Sion in particular, which taste he continued to indulge at great expense when he settled in Paris, where the imported product was infinitely dearer than the native Beaujolais and Chablis.
Visiting the James Joyce Pub some time ago with a fellow Dubliner, I was somewhat taken aback to find the place packed; it looked as if we wouldn't find a seat.
The irony of it! Here we were, two fellow citizens of the great man and there was no room for us at the inn.
But a kindly Zurich man, spotting our dismay, beckoned us forward and made a place for us in the corner of a red plush Victorian banquette. We felt as snug and at home as if we were in Dublin.
We perused the elegant menu with its informative essay on the history of the building and were pleased to find that we could have a choice of three of Ireland's finest whiskeys or we could have an Irish coffee or an exotic concoction of rum, apricot brandy, Cointreau and orange juice called the Anna Livia Plurabelle. But in memory of our fellow-Dubliner, we settled instead for a carafe of his favourite wine, Fendant de Sion.
And then what food to accompany this beverage? Would it be the Irish Stew? Or fish and chips? Or Bloom's Breakfast gorgonzola and black bread with a quarter bottle of red plonk? Why not?
I decided to do a little market research and in my hesitant German asked three people near me if they had ever heard of "der Schriftsteller James Joyce". I am glad to report that all of them had and knew that he was buried above their city, in Fluntern Cemetery, beside the Zoo, where, as his wife Nora so pithily remarked, "he could hear the lions roaring."
Joyce once remarked that Zurich was so clean you could eat minestrone off the street without using a spoon quite a compliment from the immortaliser of "Dear Old Dirty Dumpling". I think that in reciprocal tribute, the people of Zurich should consider renaming the Bahnhofstrasse. Why not call it Joycestrasse!