Criterion - History and Facts | History Hit


Chris Smith

02 Sep 2021
Image Credit: Used with permission from the Criterion Restaurant

About Criterion

Please note: Criterion is now open as Granaio at Piccadilly, and is taking bookings.

Criterion has stood at the heart of Piccadilly Circus as one of London’s most opulent restaurants for nearly 150 years. Now a Grade II listed building, Criterion’s spectacular neo-Byzantine interior, gold mosaic ceiling, and marbled walls have dazzled diners for generations.

History of Criterion

Criterion was the result of an architectural competition held by 19th-century caterers and hoteliers, Felix Spiers and Christopher Pond, who hoped to create something special when merging buildings on Piccadilly and Jermyn Street. The winner, Thomas Verity, devised a five-storey establishment with two dining rooms, a basement theatre, a ballroom, and what might just be Britain’s first American-style cocktail bar. Built in 1873, Criterion was an immediate success.

Early on, the venue hosted events such as the First Annual Dinner of the Royal College of Science, then chaired by H.G Wells. Lunch clubs were also popular with influential guest speakers including Edgar Wallace, Sir Hugh Walpole, and Bertrand Russell.

In 1909, Criterion held meetings for the Women’s Social and Political Union, organised by Christabel Pankhurst, as the movement for women’s suffrage gained support. A decade on, many of David Lloyd George’s discussions on how to extend the wartime coalition government into a new political party took place at Criterion, with Winston Churchill famously delivering a memorable speech to the New Members’ Group there.

After featuring in 19th and 20th century in literature – in G.K Chesterton’s The Flying Inn and P. G Wodehouse’s Indian Summer of an Uncle, and notoriously as the place Doctor Watson first hears of Sherlock Holmes in A Study In Scarlet – Criterion took on a new guise as a setting for television and cinema, notably Downton Abbey and The Dark Knight.

Criterion today

Criterion has endured many changes of ownership, appearance and menu, particularly in recent years, but the architectural beauty and decorative charm remains, and so a visit to this historic location is recommended.

Many regard the French Renaissance-influenced stone front to be Verity’s best surviving work, while the gilded interior complete with deep red furnishings and jewel-encrusted wall coverings ensures the spirit of lavishness lives on.

Getting to Criterion

Criterion is right next to Piccadilly Circus underground station which can be reached via the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. It’s also a five-minute walk from Leicester Square which you can access on the Northern and Piccadilly lines.