Naked initiations, reselling shop-bought cream cakes and waiting on rock royalty are some of the colourful memories shared by one former employee of a perhaps the most unique restaurant ever to open in Liverpool.
Before Radio City took over the top of St Johns Beacon in 2000, it was once home to the revolving Tower Restaurant situated nearly 400ft up in the air. Construction of the Liverpool skyline landmark tower began in 1965 and took five years to complete.
The Tower Restaurant opened at the top of St Johns Beacon in 1971 and ran for over 10-years. Derek Harrison, 65, was only a teenager when he began working as chef at the restaurant in 1973.
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Derek, who lived in Aigburth at the time, shared his memories of starting his career at the Tower Restaurant while still a teenager fresh out of catering college. After he spotted an advert in the Liverpool Echo for a commis chef he phoned up to find it was for a job at the five star Tower Restaurant.
Recalling his interview with the head chef, Derek told ECHO: “He came down with all the chef’s outfit on. The name of the restaurant embroidered on his jacket, it was so posh.
“He sat down and gave me this massive menu and he said can you read this? So me, I was saying things like ‘horse’s doo-vrays’ (hors d’oeuvres) and pate (pâté – pronounced pa-tay).
“He said, ‘so you’re good at the language aren’t you’ – sarcastic bugger. But he gave me the job, 50 hours a week 20p an hour.'”
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Billed as Liverpool’s skyscraper restaurant its owners, Empire Catering, promised it would be “one of the best in the country.” The restaurant’s unique features included a revolving floor where diners could take in the magnificent panorama of the city and even see Blackpool Tower on a clear day.
Derek also describes the inside of the restaurant covered in green and brown flock wallpaper that was “like carpet” on the walls. He also said the revolving floor had three speeds, ranging from one full rotation per hour to three.
When a customer came into the restaurant, the lift doors would open, and once they had given their name, they would be taken to have a drink at the bar by the lifts. When their table was ready, the customer would be given and sat down at a seat on the outer ring which revolved.
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Everything in the kitchen had to be cooked on electric cookers due to the increased danger of using gas appliances at a restaurant at that height. The menu was based on classic French dishes including prawn cocktail, lobster and Foie Gras.
In his near 10 years working at the restaurant, Derek worked his way up from commis to sous chef. But he remembers the initiation new chefs, including himself, were subject to when they first started with some embarrassment.
Derek said: “They picked on the commis chefs. They stripped them naked and stuck them in the bin and send them down the b****y lift. You’d just hope to God there was no one standing by the lift when the door was open as you would be upside-down and naked in a black bin.”
Remembering when it happened to him, he said: “They must have phoned the manager from reception and said there’s something coming down for you. He was at the lift doors when it opened and there’s me. He just sent me back up.”
Derek also remembers legendary rock band Queen turning up at the restaurant after they had played the Liverpool Empire in 1977. The four band members, which included singer Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian, each ordered a salad.
The ex-chef also remembers how the restaurant used to buy pre-made cakes from a local Liverpool bakery and serve them customers as authentic French desserts. Derek said: “There used to be a cake shop in Reece’s (famous chain of Liverpool coffee shops). The cakes were made in Reece’s Bakery at the back of the Adelphi.
“Their famous things were called rum babas (a classic French pastry dessert). They would sell them to us and we’d take their synthetic cream out and put fresh cream in and sell it in the restaurant on the sweet trolley for four times the price!”
Derek left the Tower Restaurant in 1981 and the restaurant closed the following summer. Attempts were made to reopen it as a space age, Buck Rogers themed burger bar in 1983 but the venture never really got off the ground and the restaurant closed again soon after.
Does the Tower Restaurant awaken any memories for you? Let us know in the comments section below.
In the following years, the tower lay empty and derelict. It was considered by many to be an eyesore or a “White Elephant”. Following refurbishment in the 1990s, Radio City moved in and began broadcasting from the renamed Radio City Tower in August 2000.
The tower went on to be awarded Grade II listed status by Historic England in 2020.