Restaurateur Mario Pagani was one of many Ticinesi who left their impoverished canton to find work in London. Nothing is known about his background. Around 1872 he took over a confectioner’s shop at no. 54 Great Portland Street, converting it into a restaurant. His fine cookery (initially Italian only) soon attracted a faithful clientele, including Vanity Fair cartoonist Carlo Pellegrini and journalist George Sims. Mario Pagaini retired in 1887. The business was taken over by Meschini who eventually became the sole proprietor. When he died, the restaurant was run by his widow Lindo [Luisa] and his son Arturo.
In 1901 architect Arthur Beresford Pite redesigned the property. His work was inspired by Otto Wagner’s Majolike Haus in Vienna. After refurbishment, Pagani’s became a fashionable meeting place for literati, artists, and musicians (Henry Wood was a regular). The walls of the Artist’s Room on the second floor were covered with signatures and caricatures of artists and musicians who had dined at here. Piero Mascagni noted down the first bars of one of the airs from Cavalleria rusticana; Luigi Denza scribbled the opening bars of his famous Neapolitan tune Funiculi, Funicula on the wall; Charles Lamoureux wrote a brief hymn of praise to the cook. Other signatures were those of Paderewski, Puccini, Piatti, Melba, Tosti, Kubelik, and Tschaikovsky. In 1925 Edward Cecil published an appreciation of The Artists’ Room (Pagani’s Restaurant). The restaurant declined during the war and was finally shut down in 1955.