Inside the London pub known as ‘Santa’s Pub’

Written by By Kristina Eckert, CNN New York, CNN Author: Leah Green

It was in earnest at Old Saint Nicholas, an opulent-looking public bar in South Kensington, London. A few feet from the front door, a young man wearing a Santa suit wandered up to a woman wearing a coat trimmed with a beard and bells; a woman in a red fur stole moved away, perhaps bored with the shrieking.

This year, things were more artificial than usual. For all the window shopping and family photograph opportunities, neither side seemed to take it seriously.

Arriving at that Saturday breakfast just before 7 a.m., parents no longer stopped to fix their children’s faces. They carried placards like “Pizza!” and “Big breakfast!” or awkwardly passed each other like two adults in a doghouse. At St. Nicholas, the two elderly women sat together in a curtained booth, looking on with defeat.

This wasn’t a great year to be a kid with the Sirloin of Beef Special at Le Pain Quotidien. #CNNMoney #CNNBiz #CNNFinance #CNNMoneyAllThingsChristmas A post shared by CNN Money (@money) on Dec 23, 2018 at 8:18am PST

Proto-American, modern-day Santa sat by the bar like a lone demon, his beard and robe hot with sweat. Clinging to him sat two young women, wearing pre-present-decorated onesies with tape-slathered snowflakes all over them. One had an electric razor in her pocket, so that every now and then she could shave the last bits of wrapping paper off the jackets before they went into Santa’s hands.

The scene around the bar filled up with the sound of happy (and irritated) kids saying “Merry Christmas” to each other. Not everyone seemed to take the greeting seriously. Two young women sat with their feet on Santa’s lap, debating the size of a T-shirt. “This is a small T-shirt,” one said. “This is a medium. Make sure you know how big it is,” the other advised.

Another young man, serving as Santa’s (beautiful) assistant, panted loudly as he negotiated my mother’s “milk, cookies and milk” order.

Credit: Leah Green

As Christmas approached, from above we could see more of the London skyline, and we were able to see more Christmas revelers — men in Santa suits stomping through the mists to greet people.

Santa is important, even for adults who live in big cities. And for kids, his presence on the streets can be, at times, extremely powerful.

At 4 p.m., a family in the far corner of the bar, dressed in matching fancy Father Christmas outfits, chanted “Merry Christmas!” Then they skipped down the bar in a synchronized movement to the tune of the “Wham! Christmas song.” The gleeful celebration of a family’s holiday that normally goes on in its home — instead, was done in a desolate, abandoned public bar.

Credit: Leah Green

As this walk on the bright side of Christmas ended, Santa stood his ground, his flighty body signaling a reality that cannot be exaggerated. You can push Santa too far, too fast, and that could potentially cause drama. You can push Santa too far, too tenderly, and that could cause a real tragedy.

I asked Santa if he’d decided on a family for Christmas, and if he’d had any conversations with his wife. He said that in recent years he’s been more interested in shopping: “I buy all the presents that my kids will need,” he said. He opened his arms wide. It was clearly his most significant gesture.

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