By Helen Braunholtz Smith, reprinted from the Guardian 26 June 2019
Hanna Barrington, Battersea’s ‘empress of Habsburg’, fled the Nazis and set up a Viennese wine bar in London. My friend Hanna Barrington has died aged 101, at the London home where she once ran a Viennese wine bar and which latterly became a “five-star pussycat hotel”.
She was born in Vienna to a Hungarian father, Hermann Czaczkes, and a Viennese Jewish mother, Rosalia (nee Taub). After her father’s early death, she lived part-time in a children’s home while her mother worked as a pianist and child psychologist.
A communist activist, Hanna was arrested when the Nazis came to power, but a former boyfriend turned Brownshirt secured her release and advised her to flee. She made it to Paris, then Britain, where she was briefly married. With the help of her new in-laws, she managed to get her mother out of Austria.
During the war Hanna worked in an East End biscuit factory, picking up cockney rhyming slang; she then became a “clippie” on the London buses but was sacked for refusing to charge servicemen. She also delivered RAF trucks, which had to have their pedals adapted so she could reach them given her diminutive size.
In the 1950s Hanna travelled to the Caribbean for the Communist Party, where she stayed with Cheddi Jagan in Guyana. He and his wife, Janet – both later became presidents of Guyana – were lifelong friends. On her return she ran a script-editing service for the commercial television company Rediffusion.
In 1958 Hanna met Patrick Barrington, a celebrated Guyanese artist living in London. They courted on the dance floor and married in 1967.
In the 1960s she bought a rundown off-licence in Battersea, and from retirement in 1978 until 1992 she ran a wine bar there called the Corkscrew. She served simple, heavy-duty fare but no desserts – “if you vont a fucking cake go to a coffee bar!” – with cats lying on the bar and prices so low that customers often insisted on putting them up.
If Hanna liked you she was charming and extremely generous – if not she could be outrageously rude. In the 80s she famously threw out Sarah Ferguson (later Duchess of York) for making too much noise, saying: “I don’t like riff-raff at either end of ze social scale.” A passionate supporter of gay rights, after the wine bar closed Hanna took in lodgers through the LGBT telephone helpline Gay Switchboard.
Her parties, reminiscent of a 19th-century Paris salon, were legendary. Artists and academics, socialists and socialites of every hue and sexual orientation would gather with the “empress of Habsburg”, as she danced on the tables well into her 70s.
Hanna is survived by Patrick.