Gardies: ‘A life story’
The Tab spoke to Gardies owner Vas about Stephen Fry, a secret society, drunk students and the best item to order from the menu.
With opening times stretching into the night and a menu packed with cheap, delicious, and wonderful greasy food, Gardies has long been a cult favourite with drunk students on nights out. In recent months, its kebabs, chips and falafel have also become popular with crowds of daytime students (especially procrastinating Tab writers). It’s fair to say that we all know what we like about Gardies, but what does its owner think of us?
The Tab chatted with its legendary owner Vas about Cambridge students, drunk purchases, and what we should order from the menu.
Gardies: ‘A life story’
Well-known in the Cambridge community, Vas has worked at Gardies for thirty-three years. His Cambridge story began when he came to Cambridge at the age of 28, working as a genetic engineer under the Greek Agricultural Minister and ICI and PBI. He describes how, through being sent to Cambridge to “learn more about DNA”, he fell deeply in love with the city’s “energy” and history.
Gardies itself began as an Inn in the 1920s and became a restaurant in 1949. When he took it over, Vas describes that Gardies was a “more exclusive restaurant for “academics” and “rich students”. He proudly tells us how he set up the takeaway alongside the restaurant to “welcome everybody.”
“Glorious” Cambridge Students
Greeting us with a bright smile and gesture to sit down, Vas repeated to us just how much he loves Cambridge students and that there’s “something missing” when we all leave.
What might come as a surprise is that Vas especially loves the post-clubbing early morning student crowd and “worked nights for 25 years.” Sadly, you won’t catch him at that time anymore as his “energy levels” are “just not there,” but you can still see him around late morning.
He declares that “at the end of the day,” students need to “go out,” “meet people,” and “socialise” as these are all “parts of University life.” He adds that to get to Cambridge, “you have lost a lot in the process” studying hard, therefore, as a student, you “have to be glorious.”
As well as encouraging Cambridge students to make the most of their time here, Vas also likes to help students stay safe. Each takeaway container comes with a free multi-coloured lollipop (something that has consistently delighted but puzzled us). Apparently, these are inspired by the Police handing them out to help sober up drunk customers- Vas adds that “sugar always calms people down.”
Stephen Fry, Ali G and a not-so-secret society
Having owned Gardies for so many years, Vas has not only mastered the art of the falafel but has had a front seat to the antics of Cambridge students (see the photo wall for physical evidence). He recounts seeing Stephen Fry and a friend “pissed out of their heads” stealing “cones from the end of the road,” and remembers Ali G actor Sacha Baron Cohen as “always very shy.” Of course, Vas is a sought-after man himself, as he tells us that he’s been contacted by the Daily Mail many times for these stories.
Back in the 90s, Vas also held regular socials, known as the “Symposiums of Dali,” with exclusive guests (including some famous people whose he refused to name). This ‘Symposium’ included a few drinks and discussions about religion, science, politics, God and more, and often stretched from 11 pm to 9 am the following day.
To enter the socials, “everybody had to come up with a crazy scientific philosophy or subject,” and Vas described that it was a great way to get exposed to the newest “scientific ideas.” He added that whenever he thinks of the club, he’s “still laughing.”
The ‘Cambridge Student Party’ Photo Wall Exhibition
Infamous as the cheesy chips is Gardies’ photo-wall, filled with images of students and revellers taken at all hours of the morning. Believe it or not, Vas has over 12,000 of these photos.
In true Gardies fashion, Vas reveals that the tradition began with the drunken offer of a disposable camera “for a few Kebabs.” In 2004 the Daily Mail even offered money for those featuring celebrities. Vas gave a clear no and put it succinctly: “I sell kebabs, I do not sell pictures.”
More intriguing is Vas’ vision of the future, as he intends to exhibit all of the photos in a “warehouse.” He describes that “maybe it will be in London”, and he’ll invite everyone for a “Cambridge student party.” (For readers with connections in the gallery industry- won’t you help a guy out?)
For most Cambridge veterans, Gardies has always been that 2 am food stop on the way home after a night out, yet for this year’s freshers, it’s a lunch venue. We spoke to Vas about the other changes Covid-19 has brought to Gardies .
Vas describes that at “Gardenia we don’t do unhappy”: “we try to cheer people up,” and “make you laugh.” Hence, he expresses how devastated he was when Covid-19 hit, and streets were filled with “people being unhappy.”
Covid-19 and the government restrictions have harmed all locally-run businesses. Though Vas describes how “Gardenias was never just a business” or about “money-grabbing,” he was “shaken and worried a lot.” He explained that: “I don’t mind not making money, but I have to open the doors,” and acknowledged that he has had to renegotiate rent support with the university.
However, though the usual late-night crowds have not returned even after pubs opening, Vas is optimistic for the future: “Hopefully everything will be alright, and I’m going to see the smiles again.”
We know where we’ll be stopping off after our first night back clubbing.
Falafel to live forever
When we asked Vas for his favourite dish, he told us that Chicken Souvlaki is the tastiest dish on the menu, but his favourite to cook is the falafel.
With over 15 herbs and spices, made fresh every day and served with homemade sauces, Vas laughs that “if you have falafel every day, you can live forever.” For Vas, food is not just what you eat but a “good feeling” that “is flourishing inside of you.” He adds that good food is always his priority: “like we say in Greece, you are what you eat.”
Vas describes the menu as “flexitarian”– offering fatty and meaty options alongside low-carb, vegan, and gluten-free ones. He also mentioned something about 5% off for students and 10% for those with a Cambridge Union membership.
Like the facebook post if you want the Tab to review the menu for you (Image credits: Inika Murkumbi)
‘We miss you guys’
“Like a tree misses water,” Vas misses his Cambridge students. Not only does he want back our late night Gardies visits, but also our “happiness.” He emphasises that Gardenia is “a life story” which includes the “young people, the future, energy.”
So, here’s the end of an Ode to gardies. May it forever keep its doors open, may the 2 am gatherings under its awnings return, and most of all, may Cambridge students forever be in debt to the legendary Vas.
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Feature Image credits: Inika Murkumbi