September 9, 2014

1943. Adventures at the Hotel Metropol

At the Hotel Metropol
Bill Downs in the front row, second from left
In 1943 Bill Downs stayed at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow with about thirty other foreign correspondents. After leaving in January 1944, he kept in touch with a few friends he made along the way.

The reporters and secretaries staying there looked for ways to amuse themselves in their free time. Downs wrote in a letter to his parents on April 8, 1943:
Our entertainment here consists of vodkawhich is liquid dynamiteand the ballet or operaand the occasional poker game with a general or admiraland an occasional date full of gestures and shouting with a Russian girl.
In the letters below, some of Downs' friends give him the rundown on what's going on in Moscow:

Sunday evening, 10 PM

March 5th 1944
British Embassy, MOSCOW.
Dear Bill,

Thought you'd appreciate a line on what's been happening around the Metropole since you departed and your room was filled by Jim Fleming who is a nice guy but socially not a patch on Basher Downs. No longer does the floor of 348 shake to the clumping of devooshkas feet; no longer do the curtains catch fire. It is just a nice quiet room. So quiet that I haven't even been in there once.

No, the location for the new stamping ground is Bill Lawrence's sumptuous suite at 373. He really has a magnificent setup thereyou'd never believe it existed in the Metropole. Big main room, bedroom with a complete leopard skin rug snarling at him all the time, a bathroom and a storeroom which right now is stackedI said stacked with tins of this and that. You never saw so much tinned stuff at one time. We are continually having big eating as well as drinking jamborees.

Incidentally the drink problem has now become one of what to do with it and not where to get it. All our dept. were issued four bottles scotch and four bottles gin at one time about a month ago, which means nearly a couple of hundred bottles of strong liquor being brought into the hotel—in addition to our normal ration of vodka which now comes in regularly.

Horace and I had 12 bottles between us and as we usually drink Marion's, we were doing all right. We had so much I traded one bottle of gin for 12 tins of fruit and stuff from Bill. I struck a pretty good bargain I thought, but he did all right from Jean and Ray who were content with two or three tins for one bottle. In addition to all this drink, your own Embassy received cases and cases of Canadian Club rye and there is a lot of this knock about too. Honestly, I have never seen so much strong drink drunk for years.

When it comes to Harold King complaining that there are too many bloody parties you can imagine how it is. And he's right. Last week I had one quiet nightand then Horace and I and Cornwell finished a bottle of Black and White before dinner. This week I had no quiet nightsparties or something every night. Last nightSaturdayJean, Ray and Norathe three maiden auntswell, aunts anywaygave a party at the Kuznetsky Most. Bill and I had previously arranged a jag he gave the Saturday before, to dine a couple of devooshkas in his roomand Jean having issued an ukase that there were to be no devooshkas as you and I and Bill understand the term, at her party. Bill and I declared a lockoutsaid we wouldn't go. She climbed down and we went but it was as stuffy as we anticipated, so after a couple of drinks we pushed off to Doc Waldron's flat where it was at least a bit more homey.

Bill is doing a big line at the Nark every night and is making 'em all work. He doesn't let this interfere with his drinking, tho'.

Incidentally, chum, they're all gunning for youall those with guilty consciences that is, following the galoshes telegram.

Frankly I can hardly blame them. You wait till you get married.

Horace is just now sitting in bed reading. He's been there all day trying to get over skin trouble and has been forbidden to drink for a week, which is hard.

There has been a lot of sickness, and there still is for that matter, although apart from a mild attack of food poisoning which I had the other week, I have so far managed to keep all right . . . God knows why since these parties do not encourage it.

We're still waiting for the winter to arrive; today it's been really warmwell not at all cold anyway and there is no snow at all around the place.

Ronnie Matthews and his blonde wife have at least departed so we have more cigarettes than we did. Tamara Gilmore has canceled all her engagements for some timeat least, she will be doing very shortly. A number of others will soon be opening up local second fronts as it were, such as Tanya, Doc Waldron's wife. So far the Press Dept. girls have managed to keep out of the Pudding Club, for all the trying they do in this direction they might start a Club for Old Maids right awaythis does not include you-know-who next door. We have two more of them coming out this month. One is a pretty good bet, but the other I fancy will join the Neo-Virginity class.

Just heard from the Swan that Stettinius has gone to London to discuss armistice terms with Germany. Sounds like a first class canard, but I'll be close here so that I can pop round and get a paper.

I don't expect a reply to this knowing your aversion to writing letters, but if you do get to London, give my love to my wife.

See you in El Vino's some time.

All the best,
[Signature illegible]

All on the same page:


Dear Bill -

Everything in Moscow is different now... This sign was on a table at the Moscow (Moskva) Restaurant. I have forgiven you for all except telling Tina about "the second galosh." That story seems to have gotten under her skin. Thanks for the intent, anyhow.

Jim Fleming has helped to make up for the loss of WRD. The ballerinas still come around but they seem to hanker for the Russian-speaking boys.

I've been hoping to get home this summer but so far have not heard about a replacement. Eddie [Gilmore], Tamara [Gilmore], [Harrison] Salisbury, [Harold] King, [Bill] Lawrence, the bearer of these messages, and myself are ensconced at a nice table. Until midnight they played Russian piecesafter that there's JAZZBINGO-BOOM. It only costs about 600 rubles each.

See you -

Watch your step, Buddy. I'm now nearly the oldest inhabitant, but she tells me it's still all right. Give my love to Fleet Street, but for Christ's sake lay off the lurid details.

See you,
Harold King

Look, pal, give Betsy my best, and don't sit up all night talking with her. And tell her for X sake write me. I'm isolated.

- Best now,
HES (Harrison Salisbury)


Please give my love impartially for Helen, Betty Knox, and Sandy. I miss them allbut perhaps not for long. Also my thanks for not sending that watch.

- Bill Lawrence

May I inject a commercial noteI delivered your stuff to Kelly and she was very delightful. You see by this here card that we're very busy. I don't know yet why, but I'm catching (?). We'll soon see. Somehow this doesn't seem to make much sense but I'm trying to translate the remarks of a Russian captain to our guests. Nuts, I'm signing off.

Love to all,
Eddy Gilmore

At the bottom:
Привет из Москвы. Надеюсь на скорую встречу. 
Тамара Гилмор 
Greetings from Moscow. Hope to see you soon. 
Tamara Gilmore