Pontack, — (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46
Pontack, —

by George Atherton Aitken
The story about Arnaud de Pontac being the father is dismissed in the ODNB.

PONTACK, —— (1638?–1720?), tavern-keeper, was the son of Arnaud de Pontac, president of the parliament of Bordeaux from 1653 to 1673, who died in 1681. Another Arnaud de Pontac had been bishop of Bazas at the close of the sixteenth century, and several members of the family held the office of ‘greffier en chef du parliament,’ and other posts in France (L'Abbé O'Reilly, Histoire complète de Bordeaux, 1863, pt. i. vol. ii. p. 126, vol. iii. p. 42, vol. iv. pp. 274, 550). After the destruction of the White Bear tavern at the great fire of London, Pontack, whose christian name is unknown, opened a new tavern in Abchurch Lane, Lombard Street, and, taking his father's portrait as the sign, called it the Pontack's Head. His father was owner, as Evelyn tells us, of the excellent vineyards of Pontaq and Obrien [Haut Brion?], and the choice Bordeaux wines which Pontack was able to supply largely contributed to the success of his house, which seems to have occupied part of the site (16 and 17 Lombard Street) where Messrs. Robarts, Lubbock, & Co.'s bank now stands (Journal of the Institute of Bankers, May 1886, vii. 322, ‘Some Account of Lombard Street,’ by F. G. H. Price). The site cannot have been the same as that of Lloyd's coffee-house, for Pontack's and Lloyd's flourished at the same period.

Pontack's became the most fashionable eating-house in London, and there the Royal Society Club dined annually until 1746. On 13 July 1683 Evelyn wrote in his ‘Diary:’ ‘I had this day much discourse with Monsieur Pontaq, son to the famous and wise prime president of Bordeaux. … I think I may truly say of him, what was not so truly said of St. Paul, that much learning had made him mad. He had studied well in philosophy, but chiefly the rabbines, and was exceedingly addicted to cabalistical fancies, an eternal hablador [babbler], and half distracted by reading abundance of the extravagant Eastern Jews. He spake all languages, was very rich, had a handsome person, and was well bred, about 45 years of age.’ These accomplishments are not usually expected of a successful eating-house proprietor. Ten years later (30 Nov. 1693) Evelyn, speaking of the Royal Society, says: ‘We all dined at Pontac's as usual;’ and in 1699 he ‘there met at dinner Bentley, Sir Christopher Wren, and others.’ The eating-house and the wine named Pontack are mentioned in Montagu and Prior's ‘The Hind and Panther transvers'd’ (1687), and in Southerne's ‘The Wives' Excuse’ (1692). In 1697 Misson (Travels, p. 146) said: ‘Those who would dine at one or two guineas per head are handsomely accommodated at our famous Pontack's; rarely and difficultly elsewhere.’ On 17 Aug. 1695 Narcissus Luttrell records (Brief Relation of State Affairs, iii. 513) that Pontack, ‘who keeps the great eating-house in Abchurch Lane,’ had been examined before the lord mayor for spreading a report that the king was missing, and had given bail.

Tom Brown speaks of ‘a guinea's worth of entertainment at Pontack's,’ and the ‘modish kickshaws’ to be found there are mentioned in the prologue to Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Love's Contrivance.’ In the same year (1703) Steele (Lying Lover, i. 1) makes Latine say, ‘I defy Pontack to have prepared a better [supper] o' the sudden.’ In ‘Reflections … on the Vice and Follies of the Age,’ part iii. (1707), there is a description of a knighted fop dining at Pontack's, at disastrous expense, on French ragouts and unwholesome wine. On 16 Aug. 1711 Swift wrote: ‘I was this day in the city, and dined at Pontack's. … Pontack told us, although his wine was so good, he sold it cheaper than others—he took but seven shillings a flask. Are not these pretty rates?’ On 25 Jan. 1713 ‘the whole club of whig lords’ dined at Pontack's, and Swift was entertained there by Colonel Cleland on 30 March of that year. The house is mentioned in ‘Mist's Journal’ for 1 April 1721, where it is hinted that, through the losses arising from the ‘South Sea Bubble,’ the brokers at the Royal Exchange went to a chop-house instead of to Pontack's, and that the Jews and directors no longer boiled Westphalia hams in champagne and burgundy. In 1722 Macky (Journey through England, i. 175) spoke of Pontack's, ‘from whose name the best French clarets are called so, and where you may bespeak a dinner from four or five shillings a head to a guinea, or what sum you please.’ Pontack's guinea ordinary, according to the ‘Metamorphosis of the Town’ (1730), included ‘a ragout of fatted snails’ and ‘chickens not two hours from the shell.’

It is not known when Pontack died, but in 1735 the house was kept by a Mrs. Susannah Austin, who married William Pepys, a banker in Lombard Street. Pontack's head is seen in some copies of plate iii. of Hogarth's ‘Rake's Progress’ (Nichols, Biographical Anecdotes of Hogarth, 1785, p. 214).

[Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; Ashton's Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, i. 186–7; Burn's Descriptive Catalogue of London Traders, Tavern, and Coffee-house Tokens, p. 13; Timbs's Club Life in London, i. 68, ii. 130–1; Larwood and Hotten's History of Signboards, 1867, pp. 93, 94; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vi. 375, 7th ser. ii. 295; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. pt. ii. p. 354; Tatler, No. 131.]

G. A. A.