A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE CURIOUS WORLD OF THE LAST TUESDAY SOCIETY
Words by Circe Hughes
It’s an unusually sunny day in London when we arrive at The Last Tuesday Society (or The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities), a Mare Street oddity and the only storefront in the area where you can find jars of preserved animal remains in the window.
A friendly neon sign welcomes us in with the promise of cocktails – something familiar. Another sign wards anyone with the wrong address off with the note, “THIS IS NOT A BROTHEL / THERE ARE NO PROSTITUTES AT THIS ADDRESS”, famously the sign outside of artist and dandy Sebastian Horsley’s Soho flat.
This peculiar museum was established in Hackney in 2009 by artist Viktor Wynd, originally as a curiosity shop and art gallery eponymously named ‘Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors’. Then in 2014, Wynd moved away from the shop concept and launched a crowdfunder to turn the relatively compact space at 11 Mare Street into The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History. Most of the collection was transferred to the basement and the ground floor was turned into an events space and cocktail bar.
Inside, we’re greeted by the taxidermy heads that surround a well-stocked absinthe bar and by Allison Crawbuck, the Director of The Last Tuesday Society, who’ll be showing us around. Underneath the bar, at the bottom of a spiral staircase, lives an ever-expanding collection of extraordinary artefacts, unnatural history, fine art, fetish relics, fairies and McDonald’s toys. “It’s quite amazing that all of this is hidden down here,” Allison says, “from the outside looking in, you could tell there’s something special behind the doors, but you really can’t imagine that this is under your feet when you’re walking down their street.”
We’re thrown right into the deep end, confronted by a Fiji mermaid as soon as we hit the basement. That sets the tone. Next, we’re taken over to the ‘cabinet of monsters’, comprising an eight-legged lamb, a two-headed kitten and a cyclops piglet, amongst other things. The museum’s ‘reclusive’ founder is not here today – at least, not in the flesh. As we make our way past an alchemist’s temple we encounter a dead body. “That’s Wynd,” says Allison. It’s a life-size piece he made while at art school as part of a graduate exhibition of different portrayals of his own death.
The curiosities continue, too many to list here. But to give you an idea, there’s Victorian hair art, made from the hair of the dead; the skull of a cyclops (actually an elephant skull, sorry to ruin the surprise); a jar of moles; fairies having a wine-fuelled party on top of a Japanese spider crab; feathers from extinct birds; books covering urgent topics (Sex Instruction for Irish Farmers and Rats for Those Who Care, for example); a (supposedly) authentic strand of Elvis’ hair; and anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas. Lots of taxidermied animals in fact. That only just begins to cover the extent of the collection, and it’s still getting bigger, “every time I think that the space must be full. He [Wynd] somehow finds another corner that seems to be empty,” Allison says.
Of course, we ask if it’s haunted. “Well, there are a lot of… remains in the collection,” Allison says, “I would imagine there are some spirits lingering.” And if there are, it seems they’re particularly fond of the loo. Allison tells us of one paranormal event that happened over Christmas while they were closed. “We came back after the break and noticed that the bathroom window had been smashed. But it was smashed from the inside out, so it was as if somebody was inside trying to get out,” she says, “there’ve been a couple of other things, but it always happens in the bathroom.”
Safe from bathroom-bound ghost encounters, for now, we head back upstairs to the bar – also an events and exhibition space. Here, they host talks about Scandinavian folklore and Alexandrian witchcraft, screen movies and display art by art by the likes of Austin Osman Spare and Mervyn Peake. The Absinthe Parlour, a cocktail bar opened by Allison and her partner Rhys Everett in 2016, now boasts the UK’s most extensive list of premium quality absinthe. The collection is also extremely rare, featuring some bottles that are no longer made.
Why choose to specialise in absinthe? “We wanted to find a drinking experience that can hold up to the museum’s collection, and absinthe seems like the perfect fit for a venue filled with weird and wonderful objects and artefacts,” Allison says. They also wanted to shine a light on the largely buried history of absinthe in London.
It’s largely forgotten that a lot of classic cocktails included absinthe, a popular choice of London bartenders in the 1920s and 30s – it was called for in over 100 recipes from the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book. And while the same story is usually told of how absinthe first came to be (created by a French doctor living in Switzerland), Allison says, “the more you look into it, the more you realise this is a great tale but probably not true. Like most origins of alcohol, the facts become muddled over the years.” Through their own research into the origins of the mysterious spirit, the Parlour team discovered the earliest recorded recipe for absinthe in an old apothecary book: a medicine prescribed to raise the spirits.
It made sense; if you were to drink absinthe, you’d do it here. “Just the right amount,” Allison clarifies, “because otherwise, you may have a terrible hangover the next day coupled with nightmares of what you saw.” Or, even worse, you could wake up with a stolen jar of celebrity faeces. “The only thing that’s ever been stolen from the museum in my time here is Amy Winehouse’s poo in a jar,” Allison tells us, “we had to call the Met Police and tell them someone stole a jar of faeces. They thought that was fake.” Fortunately for the museum, this was at the height of track and trace and they not only had the perp’s name, but her phone number and email address. They contacted her and the next day and “she very, very, very, very quietly came in, put it on the bar and then walked away.”
Don’t do what she did. But do be sure to grab a pair of kangaroo balls on the way out (from the gift shop).