Frederick had always dreamt of owning his own bar and just before the war Betty’s became one of the few cafes in York to have a liquor licence. With the outbreak of war and the influx of airmen to the Vale of York, the licence proved to be one of Betty's greatest assets. Very soon Betty’s Bar, or the 'Dive' as it was affectionately known, became one of the airmen's favourite haunts, especially for the many Canadians who made up No. 6 Bomber Group, based around York

The Bar was also known as 'The Briefing Room' because airmen claimed that they could find out all they needed to know about their next missions over a drink at Betty’s Bar. Nevertheless careless talk could be dangerous - spies might be anywhere, even in Betty’s!
Betty’s Bar quickly became known nationwide and was even featured in a cartoon in the Tatler Magazine. In fact when the War Office tried to requisition the Cafe as an administrative centre, opposition from Betty’s Bar devotees (many of whom were in Bomber High Command) resulted in plans being swiftly changed!

The war years changed Betty’s in many other ways. Thanks to rationing, Betty’s customers enjoyed the unusual delights of fish cakes, spam fritters, and corned beef hash. And one evening an incendiary bomb crashed through the roof of Betty’s,  although thanks to the swift action of our own nightly fire-watcher, the building was saved.

A moving testament to the popularity of Betty’s York amongst the servicemen remains to this day - Betty’s Mirror.

Betty’s housed many mirrors, including a huge picture mirror behind the bar. Here wartime 'Bomber Boys', often many thousands of miles from home, used to engrave their name before flying off on dangerous missions. No one is entirely sure how the practice started. One story tells of airmen using a waitress's engagement ring to scratch their names on the mirror. Another tale recalls a mirror onboard the Queen Mary which featured signatures of famous celebrities. When Frederick Belmont installed a similar mirror in his York Tea Room, he decided that the servicemen using his bar were the real celebrities. Whatever the origins of the mirror, the practice quickly caught on.

By the end of the war the mirror featured nearly 600 names. Sadly many of the young men who signed their name never returned from their dangerous missions overseas.

Today several sections of the mirror, which was damaged during an air raid, hang in the downstairs Oak Room as a reminder of all our wartime patrons.

Thanks to Joan Edwards we have some current photos of Betty's Bar.
Current Photos

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