All right, all right. I should have known. I’ve driven past it plenty of times to have noticed its decline. It’s just that I haven’t actually been in it for ages, decades, probably.
So when it came to booking a Mothering Sunday lunch, and all the first choices were full, the Park Hotel, Tynemouth didn’t sound so bad. Like I say: I should have known.
It has stood overlooking the Long Sands since 1939, an art deco masterpiece in white stucco, with a distinctive maritime aspect.
Along with its rival, the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth, is was the local posh place. My parents had their wedding reception there in 1952. So did my sister in 1977. It was the scene of family treats throughout my childhood. It’s the only place I’ve ever had crepe suzette flambeed at my table. I was probably about 12.
Crepe suzette, steak Dianne, chicken chasseur, black forest gateau from the trolley…all those fabulous 1970s dishes were on the menu of the Park, the dining room overseen by the formidable maitre d’, Mr Eric, whom I was far too young to know, obviously, but knew about thanks to my dad cultivating a relationship with him. It was handy for a local businessman to know the maitre d’ at the Park. My mum said he always remembered her name. Jackets and a tie were de rigeur.
There was a large, curved staircase coming into the lobby and the place was highly suitable for a distinguished old gent, who had lived next door to us, to move into for quite some time after his wife died.
The hotel bar was called, appropriately enough, The Square Rigger. It operated a very relaxed policy toward under-age drinking in those days when publicans were able to turn a blind eye so long as no one got out of order. No one did, not that I remember.
And then…what happened? Some time in the late 80s, 90s, the decline began. The Square Rigger became “Parkers” – no longer a lively local, but a soulless hotel bar. Perhaps they got warned too often about the teenagers.
Then – and this is truly inexplicable – for more than a decade it was painted brown. Brown. And not just any brown, but the sort of pale brown that…oh never mind.
It renamed itself “The Montagu Park Hotel” for some reason. Cheap vinyl banners advertised “Curry and a pint”. The magnificent ballroom seemed to be under permanent restoration. I can only assume Mr Eric was no longer in the hotel’s employ.
And now? Lunch yesterday was almost heartbreaking. The dining room is accessed through “Parkers”, where a large screen showed the football, noisily, to almost no one. My mum – 91 and trying very hard not to look disappointed (she thought we were going to the Grand which has maintained its status, more or less) – and I took our seats for the carvery at a table with paper table cloths still dirty from the previous occupants, with paper napkins and an overflowing sugar bowl (sugar bowl? In 2016?)
Everything about it was epicly awful. The food, the decor, the non-existent service. Mum, bless her, pretended not to mind. She’s well brought-up, my mum. I felt wretched.
I can only take solace in the hope that it need not be like this. it cannot be. It’s still a great location, a great-looking building. It could once again be a wonderful hotel.