Buckingham Palace Once Had an On-Site Bar, But Royal Staffers Couldn't Behave Themselves

An upcoming TV special also suggests the queen has been known to take tea orders from palace workers.

Photo: Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images

London's five-star Rubens Hotel at the Palace doesn't just have a clever name: it's located on Buckingham Palace Road, a five-minute walk from Buckingham Palace itself, and just a well-thrown tiara away from the Royal Mews. Its lengthy list of amenities includes two restaurants, three bars, and its Palace Lounge, which is close enough to the Mews for visitors to see honest-to-goodness royal horses and carriages in-between bites of finger sandwiches and scones.

The hotel's Royal Afternoon Tea can be served with a glass of champagne, a more petite champagne shot, or a fussy cocktail from its "Royal Collection"—and let's be honest, raising a Kir Royale towards one of those horses across the street is as close as many of us are gonna get to having a drink at Buckingham Palace. But according to one of Queen Elizabeth's former staffers, that wasn't always the case.

The first episode of "Secrets of the Royal Palaces," which will air Iater this month on British network Channel 5, focuses on, uh, the secrets of Buckingham Palace, and there are some gems. Dickie Arbiter, who served as the Queen's press secretary for more than a decade, said that there used to be a bar in the palace that members of the staff could use. But because none of us can have nice things—not even members of the Royal Household—it had to be shut down after employees had a tendency to overserve themselves. "They had to get rid," Arbiter claimed.

Kevin Andrews, who works as the royal upholsterer, also told an eyebrow-raising story that a builder friend shared with him. This unnamed acquaintance said that he'd been at the Palace, taking a desk apart, when someone asked if he'd like a cup of tea. "Yeah, in a mug. Two sugars. Builders' tea," the man replied. "I don't want any of that nonsense I had the last time I was here, all that fine china and all that saucer stuff."

A few minutes later, he heard that same voice say that his tea was on the table. When he looked up, he saw the Queen herself walking out of the room. (OK, part of me really wants to believe this, that Lizzie Two spends her afternoons taking drink orders from random workers. And another, larger part of me is completely disappointed that anyone would turn down the chance to drink from the Queen's china, because I'd 100 percent ask for my tea to be served in something extra-fancy, jewel-encrusted, and delivered on a gilded tray being pulled across the carpet by one of the royal corgis).

Anyway, that now off-limits bar wasn't the only "Cribs"-worthy feature scattered throughout the Palace's some 755(!) different rooms: apparently there's also a post office, a surgical suite, an indoor pool, and an ATM.

According to the Express, the Queen is currently at Balmoral Castle, her Scottish vacation home, and she isn't expected to return to London until mid-October. That seems like a good time to park yourself in the Palace Lounge, and treat yourself to an Kir Royale while you watch for any signs of her arrival.

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