I knew the London Andrew as the scholarly and savvy art dealer, successful restaurateur, wine connoisseur, and cordial host of his private club, but never Andrew the country squire where he retreated out of the metropolis to recharge and replenish himself.
Many knew him as the convivial owner of his famous namesake restaurant and his club, The Academy. Unlike other Soho clubs that strived to be posh, The Academy was, by design, shabby chic with the atmosphere and look of a ruckus in a Thomas Rowlandson watercolour of the 18th century.
As many have remarked in wonder, The Academy was a party with a till. Andrew wanted to recreate on a nightly basis the spirit of the prints of centuries past that he sold in his gallery. He was like a socialising bee pollinating friendships among people as he circulated the tables.
The food in the restaurant and club was fine but the wine on the list and their prices even better. I treasured Andrew’s visits to me in San Francisco, and our explorations of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma.
Once, some Americans spotted a very expensive Napa Cabernet called Screaming Eagle on his list in the restaurant for much less than retail back home.
They inquired if they could order four bottles, one to drink and three to take away and bring back home. Andrew cheerfully shut down their request by saying as a restaurateur, he would be happy to sell them the four bottles but he would have to uncork them all before they left!
As a museum curator, I was fortunate to also know Andrew as an astute and passionate art dealer who was also a widely respected expert on the art of William Hogarth and James Gillray. His print shop, adjacent to the restaurant, looked straight out of a Charles Dickens novel with its intellectual clutter.
Andrew would open a drawer brimming with prints but choose to pull out only a very few to show you. At times it was frustrating but it always left one eager to return again.
Despite the reputation that there is nothing left to discover at the Portobello Road Saturday antiques market, Andrew was the only West End dealer I invariably encountered there searching for the odd treasure.
I bought many important works from him for my museum in San Francisco including, 28 years ago, a first edition of James Gillray’s famous 1799 etching, The Gout. In June 2022, Andrew had another impression of the etching. It was a later Bohn reprint but beautifully coloured and at a modest price.
Andrew urged me to acquire it and after it arrived last September I called him to tell him how pleased I was with it, and we had one last chat full of gossip and good fellowship.
Gracious but practical
July 19, 2022, was the hottest day in the history of London measuring 40.3C (104.5F). My daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren were in London on that sweltering day and I called Andrew to see if they could dine at The Academy. Always gracious but practical, Andrew instead said that he would put them at a table downstairs in the restaurant…. why? Because it was the only room in the restaurant that was air conditioned. My family was thankful for his thoughtfulness.
When Andrew died, I thought I had lost one of my best friends. When I read the tributes in every major newspaper in London and those reminiscences of his colleagues in the various worlds he inhabited, I realised that many felt the same as I did.
London will never be the same without Andrew but quoting William Butler Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”
Robert Flynn Johnson