Rosie's bar

Rosie Bernard ran The Chatham in Monaco, haunt of racing drivers, rally men and sailors for decades This extract from her new book  recalls the glamorous days when no visit to Monaco was complete without a drink in ‘Rosie’s Bar’

People often ask me why the drivers came to the Chatham Bar. I think it started with an English aristocrat called Lord Patrick Stewart, who knew quite a few drivers and took them to his favourite watering hole. 

The whole grand prix thing was so different back then. Drivers used to arrive on the Monday before the race weekend and liked to relax for a few days before and after a race, so they came to the bar. It was a home from home for many of them; the Chatham Bar was like their local. 

The BBC grand prix commentator then was the late Raymond Baxter, who would pop in for a drink after the race; he would announce that he was coming in to spend his BBC salary, and therefore it would not take too long! 

Both Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins visited us frequently in the 1950s and were always the centre of attention and fun. Mike’s favourite game was to sit outside and drink champagne after first trying to pop the cork over to the other side of the road. If he did not succeed he would just buy another bottle (after drinking the first!) and repeat the process.

Peter Collins kept a boat in the harbour where he would stay with his two Siamese cats, which he brought into the bar sitting on his shoulder. He considered me to be like a sister and would pour his heart out. He would tell me that he questioned why he took part in such a dangerous occupation and then explain how the need to race and the passion always took over in the end. 

They were such a mischievous couple – I remember on one occasion they took out all the tables and chairs and piled them up in the middle of the road as a barricade and stopped all the traffic from going up or down the hill! 

On another occasion a customer parked a little Renault outside while he popped in for a quick drink. Mike and Peter picked it up and put it on top of four chairs and then ran away!

I always liked to have flowers in the bar, which a young girl delivered on a little Vespa. One day she brought the flowers in and we chatted away while she had a coffee; but when she went back outside her little scooter had disappeared. Looking anxiously up and down the road she began to get a little upset. Then, coming around Ste Devote and struggling up the hill, was her Vespa – with four racing drivers all hanging off it! 

We were a good meeting place for the teams and journalists during the race weekend where they could discuss the testing and practice sessions. Raymond Baxter would appear with Jack Reece, who did his lap charts for him; he had a really difficult job commentating, staring at two very small TV monitors and unable to hear himself think above the noise. In addition Vic Barlow from Dunlop, Harry Mundy, Graham Hill and Innes Ireland would wander into the bar demanding eggs and bacon. Not something I normally provided, but I knew how much the British contingent wanted their cooked breakfast so I would keep a good stock in over race weekend.

Innes Ireland was a very colourful character. A lieutenant in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, he served with the Parachute Regiment in the Suez Canal Zone during 1953 and ’54 before he turned to motor racing. He told so many crazy tales about outrageous events in his life that one wondered if they were real, and how so many things could happen to just one person.

Navy men were also regular visitors and not always perfectly behaved. One night some of them made a real mess of the place. Papa immediately got in touch with the Commander of their carrier. He was horrified and immediately offered to pay for everything. After he left we started to clear up the mess but Papa would not let us throw it away; instead he told us to place all the broken glass in a couple of sacks. 

A couple of years later the same carrier arrived in the Med and the crew once again descended on the bar. While they were not as raucous as before, there were again a few broken glasses when they left. Papa disappeared into the stores and produced the sacks of broken glass which he then liberally distributed all over the floor. Then he got on to the Commander of the ship… Another cheque arrived a few days later. After this event we ensured that Papa threw away the sacks of glass. 

Over the years much changed since we first started watching the grands prix. Barriers were erected instead of straw bales and we had to tape up the windows like in the war to stop glass going everywhere in the event of an accident. We had such a terrific view from the bar. In the beginning we were permitted to watch from the window but eventually we were moved up to the roof by the authorities as the cars got faster and more safety precautions were introduced. Even on the roof you could occasionally get hit by small pieces of rubber that came off the tyres. 

I am often asked to try and remember all the famous people who came to the bar, but sometimes I simply did not know who they were. I was working away as normal one day when a group of very well dressed Italian gentlemen came in. There was an elderly man with them who went and sat by the window. I later found out it was Enzo Ferrari, who had popped in with a few of his staff members for a quiet drink. 

Despite the fame of some of them, to me they were just people and I treated them all the same. I think that this is why they kept coming back. They were treated by everybody in the bar as normal human beings which I think made them feel at home and comfortable. Even Winston Churchill paid us a visit from time to time and chatted to Papa about cigars.  After one of his visits his staff presented Papa with a huge box of cigars from Winston himself.  

The walls were signed by people from all over the world. While to some it looked a complete mess, it was one of the attractions of the bar and people came to see the artwork and add to it. Photographer Michael Hewett would take ages producing fantastic prints, only to find when he returned that somebody had written all over them!  

Graham and Bette Hill were regulars; they were such a loving couple and used to bring the young Damon and his sisters Samantha and Brigitte. Graham always came into the bar on the Monday after the race whether he had won or not. He would buy all the British people in the bar a drink, and if any other nationalities complained he would always tell them “Find your own driver”!. He would also challenge anyone to a game of darts; the problem was that he played as competitively as he raced. It was always a tough and serious game with Graham as he played to win! Out of all the drivers who came in he was probably my favourite, he was always so full of fun and laughter, telling jokes and chatting to anybody who would listen. A really wonderful man that it was my privilege to have known; it was a very sad day for me when I heard of his untimely death. Even after all these years I still hear from Bette from time to time. 

Despite many misfortunes which have befallen me, I realise that I am blessed with so many friends from all over the world, and by having the opportunity to meet so many wonderful and kind people. I am truly a very lucky lady.

Excerpts from Rosie’s Memories (ISBN 9780955662201) by Red Mist Books, available October 2008 from