The dystopian origins of Salt Lake City’s courthouse restaurant
During a recent visit to Salt Lake City’s Matheson Courthouse — a popular destination for those of us on The Tribune justice desk — I entered through back door and notice something intriguing: The Chestnut Tree Cafe.
I had seen the cafe before, but for some reason it wasn’t until this visit that I realized that’s also the name of the cafe in George Orwell’s dystopian classic "1984." If you can still remember from your high school reading list, The Chestnut Tree Cafe is where protagonist Winston Smith goes after his torture and release from the Ministry of Truth. He’s a broken man by the time he gets there. The name also comes up in a song Smith recalls that includes the lyrics, "Under the spreading chestnut tree/I sold you and you sold me."
The cafe is a prominent and important part of the book, so when I noticed the name of the courthouse cafe — and didn’t notice any chestnut trees nearby — I figured there must be a connection.
So I called Jim Barclay, who owns and operates the cafe. Barclay laughed and said "no comment" when I asked him about the "1984" reference, but he added that some of the judges have noticed the connection.
Barclay — who also runs the Broadway Deli — opened the cafe about three years ago. It is located at 450 S. State St. and operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Barclay said it’s known to have a good breakfast. Lunch menu items include sandwiches and soups, which after having written this and looked closely at the menu, I’m excited to try.
And in case you’re wondering, the Salt Lake City version thankfully lacks the bleak, dystopian flavor of the one in "1984" — though given its location I’m sure more than a few patrons have sat at its tables wondering about Big Brother.
— Jim Dalrymple II