Station champagne romance hits health and safety buffers: Marie Woolf Whitehall Editor
The railway station bar, once a classic venue for romantic encounters, has fallen victim to the health and safety police.
In its 140-year history, St Pancras has survived steam trains, bombing raids and a massive electrification programme — but a candle was too much. Leventhal was baffled to be told that a full risk assessment of the 4in children’s candle would have to be made before it could be allowed on the premises. Senior officials would have to give their approval and put safety measures in place.
When Michael Leventhal, a London publisher, wanted to impress his date on her birthday, the longest champagne bar in Europe seemed to be the perfect setting. So Leventhal, 35, made a booking at the new St Pancras station, whose 96-metre bar has been promoted as a perfect meeting point for lovers. He also e-mailed a request for help in arranging a birthday surprise. Leventhal asked whether he could bring a candle and have it surreptitiously placed on a cake, brought to the bar and presented to his companion when she was least expecting it.
An e-mail from Raymond Lay, the bar’s events manager, explained: "I have asked the station operations if we would be allowed to have a lit candle at the champagne bar for a birthday cake and’they have said that we will have to submit a risk assessment form stating what the risk will be to the bar and the station, and what we will put in place to combat any possible risks.
"The risk assessment form will then be put to Mike Page (head of station operations)." There was just one snag, as the e-mail noted: "Unfortunately Mike Page will not be back from holiday … so the champagne bar would not be able to let you light the candle for your friend’s birthday cake."
Leventhal was shocked by the response — not least because St Pancras was built at the height of the steam age when blazing furnaces filled the station every day.
"I was amazed that such a tiny candle could cause such a huge problem. It was bureaucratic insanity," he said. "I thought it was preposterous but very funny. It was a second date. I had wanted to treat her."
The date, in February, went ahead but without the cake and candle. The couple found themselves in an empty bar staring at a parked Eurostar. She is no longer in contact with him.
The station, which was opened as the Eurostar terminus last year, said the champagne bar was right to have demanded a risk assessment because of the potential danger from a naked flame. If permission had been granted, a spokesman said, a fire extinguisher would have had tc be on stand-by in case th( candle burnt out of control.