This article was written by David Gaddes. All views and opinions are strictly his own.
I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy the occasional tipple although, without a conscious effort, I do not drink anywhere near what I did. I guess my consumption was at its peak during the break up of the former Soviet Union and for a few years thereafter, simply because of social circumstances, although I cannot entirely blame Mother Russia for this. These days it’s an occasional glass of wine with a meal, whereas during the period I refer to it was noon and night every day and with no upper stop loss.
You don’t need me to tell you that the metals space in London had a drinking culture for many years, although these days it is not what it was. I remember my first day in a metal merchant’s office. It was 1969 and my immediate boss, who ran the lead and zinc book, took me down to the LME, which in those days was in Whittington Avenue in Leadenhall Market. I worked there for a while as a floor clerk in later years but this was my first visit, straight out of school. The first thing we did before the first rings started was to tap on the door of the Lamb public house which is still on the central crossroads of Leadenhall Market. We were let in by the barman. This was before official opening time but there were already a few ring dealers and floor clerks enjoying a sausage and a beer which was the done thing then. You could say my habit began in the metals industry on day one.
I am not sure exactly why this culture thrived then but I suggest that its beginnings were deep seated, in people meeting to discuss business outside the confines of the office and the Exchange. A story I like related to this is the one about the long in the tooth LME dealer. When electronic trading systems were first being talked about he was asked for his opinion. He said “ …they will never catch on. I have not met a computer yet that can take me to lunch…”
So I cast my mind back to a broker-client lunch once held at Carrier’s restaurant in Camden Passage. It is no longer there but those who knew it will remember what a fine restaurant it was. Robert Carrier founded the restaurant. Treat yourself and “google” his name. A very interesting man.
Now, the host of this particular lunch was an LME dealer renowned for his alcohol consumption, albeit not his ability to hold it. He had invited a gentleman to lunch from the USA who was responsible for a sizeable amount of business on the LME. The dealer had decided to impress the client although, knowing the former as I did, this was always going to be a bridge too far.
The dealer had spent two sessions in the Lamb prior to the lunch. One session before his first rings traded and another during the interval between the first and second rings. When he arrived at Carrier’s, the client was running thirty minutes late so the dealer tucked into a few gin and tonics prior to the client’s arrival. The result being, of course, that by the time the client arrived the dealer was not in the slightest bit able to impress anybody although try he did. Even worse the client had given up alcohol and had ordered a Coca Cola.
As is often the case, the circular table for three was full of glasses and rather cramped for surface space. Some full, some half full and some empty. Gin and tonic, vodka and coke, mineral water, coca cola, and the remnants of a fine white wine which had been enjoyed with the first course. At this juncture the dealer decides to go for broke in his attempt to impress. He calls over the Sommelier and has a long discussion about something he knows absolutely nothing about. Wine. He orders one of the most expensive clarets on the wine list, much to the delight of the Sommelier.
The Sommelier returns with the wine and runs through the ceremony of preparing it for consumption. He very carefully pours a small amount into a glass on the table for the dealer to taste. The dealer does that and says to the Sommelier: “That is absolutely wonderful. Worth every penny.” The look on the Sommelier’s face was priceless. It would not be possible for any other human being to convey the contempt with which he looked at the dealer. He simply said “THAT is the coke, sir”.
The curious thing is that the gentleman from the USA thought it was hilarious, and eventually became a life long friend of the dealer and honoured him with some quality LME business after that. God knows why.