Victor Sassie. Even now, decades after his retirement, his name is synonymous with Gay
Hussar. Most people know of his character, his larger than life personality, his penchant for
ordering for customers…
But few know who he was before Gay Hussar, or of who he was outside of the establishment.
So who was he?
Despite his strong connections with Hungary, Victor Sassie was actually half Swiss and Half Welsh! He was the son of a Swiss shipwright who came ashore in Cardiff to marry a Welsh girl.
As a teenager, Victor joined the British and Restaurant Association, which sent him to
Budapest in 1932 where he “became Hungarian”, under the tutelage of a famous
restaurateur, Karoly Gundel, who died while Victor was working for him.
He learned about Hungarian cuisine in Budapest and Vienna before the second world war,
most notably at the famous Three Hussars restaurant, which helped inspire the name of
Gay Hussar! He later returned to England in 1939 to open his first restaurant called Budapest in Dean Street. During the Second World War he served with British intelligence, later joining the Military Mission in Budapest, where he met and married his wife Elizabeth.
Victor managed to open a second Budapest in Frith Street, Soho and then in 1953, the Gay Hussar. The restaurant was named for the famed Three Hussars which in turn was named in honour of the elite of the Hungarian army. According to Victor they were renowned for their high spirits; they were known to ride into taverns calling for buckets of wine for their horses.
Gay Hussar immediately became a favourite haunt of left wing politians, journalists and
writers (the dinner tables were on occasion peppered with the odd Tory MP too)
But success brought its problems. Thus, when the shop workers' union entertained a Soviet distributive workers' delegation, the Daily Mail managed to get hold of the bill. They put it on the front page, and it was very large indeed. Instantly, most of the political diners vanished, judging that the place was no longer secure.
Poor Sassie had to build up a new clientele, and he was reduced to getting in a gypsy fiddler. He suffered. But not for long. The yearning for the Gay Hussar's unique mix of goulash and gossip proved too strong and soon the usual crowd were back, browsing and sluicing as before. But if goulash and gossip were the draw, the greatest of these was gossip. It was a commonplace that if you wanted to spread something round all your friends quickly, the surest way to do it was to tell Victor.
When Victor finally retired in 1988, he walked out of the place he had created and never
returned. His other life-long interest was horse racing, and he actually owned a racehorse and spent his retirement years indulging his other passion. Though he has since passed away he is still remembered fondly by our guests, be it in conversation, newspaper articles or even in their unwavering loyalty to the Gay Hussar.