On July 1, 1911, the 'Grand Café Odeon' opened its doors for the first time – and revolutionised the way Zurich’s art and political socialites drank their champagne. They also signed its guest book – which now has been auctioned for CHF42,000 ($43,000), double the estimate.
In Zurich, champagne used to be ordered by the bottle. The Odeon was the first place in Zurich to serve it by the glass – thus making the today ever-present “Cüpli” affordable for all kinds of guests. The Irish author James Joyce and scientist Albert Einstein are just two of the many celebrities who frequented the café in the early days.
It is not known what General Ulrich Wille, the pro-German head of the Swiss armed forces during the First World War, ordered to drink. However, he entered his name in the guest book on July 20, 1920, in a break between card games. Sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whose studio was in the same building as the cafe, painted a sketch in the book on April 10, 1923.
Historical evidence of Zurich’s art scene
The brown leather book, which measures 17.5cm by 13.5cm and is just 1cm thick, contains 140 signatures and was described by Christie’s on Tuesday as an “extraordinary historical document”. Many other artists, actors and figures from the city’s literary scene left their mark, mostly with a pen or quill. Auction house Christie’s said it portrayed an “important cross section of the then blossoming art scene in Zurich”.
Helen May-Otto, who with her husband Werner May ran the Odeon, asked selected patrons to add to the book. In 1932, the Mays headed for North America. The book was recently found by their granddaughter, who lives in Canada and who put it up for sale.
Today the café is still a hub of activity with a broad clientele of tourists and home-grown locals who appreciate a good coffee – or a glass of champagne.