Londoners, as well as visitors, have a number of attractions and activities to enjoy while staying in the city, but perhaps none more enjoyable than the London pub crawl!
With a variety of excellent places to choose from, here are our top tips for making the most of your time in the city’s pubs…
People who have been to London know that the city is full of historic buildings, many of which have fascinating stories behind them. What will surprise you is that these historic venues include a variety of different pubs!
These are pubs that are rife with tall tales and fine ales and are some of London’s most fascinating historical gems. Take time to visit them, soaking up the ambiance as you drink a beer or two.
You can do all or parts of the suggested tour on your own at your own pace or if you are fortunate enough a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ales) has a London Pub Group that has occasional tours. https://londonpubsgroup.camra.org.uk/pub-crawls
British brewers produce over 6,000 different ales on a regular basis. There are many different styles of real ale, varying from fresh, crisp pale ale, and golden ales to rich, dark stouts and porters. With so many beers it is almost impossible to find something that doesn’t match your taste preferences, there’s something to suit almost everyone, and drinking in a charming London Pub makes them even better!
Starting: Black Friars Pub
Finish point: The Princess Louise
Distance: 1.25 miles (2 kilometers)
Timing tip: Some of the entries are closed on weekends, mostly on Sunday, so if you can, plan your visit on the weekdays, although most of the key entries are open on Saturday.
Start at the newly renovated Blackfriars station just up the road from the first pub stop of the walk, the Black Friar pub. With its distinctive shape and a highly distinctive name, the Black Friar is hard to miss. In fact, the view across the street shows the building at its best, with a huge black monk sitting on top of the building watching the traffic chaos.
Pub 1: The Black Friar
The Grade II-listed Black Friar pub was originally built in 1875 on the site of a Dominican priory dating from the 13th century. A plaque outside reminds us that the Black Friar was almost lost to oblivion some 50 years ago, but was saved by a spirited campaign led by John Betjeman.
The interior décor, dating from the 1905 Art Nouveau refurbishment, is what makes this pub so special. It exudes the confidence and confidence of the late Victorian era, and such exuberant design is extremely rare nowadays.
Not only is the architecture worthwhile, but the beer menu is better than ever, with London Pride joined by a changing selection of interesting guests on the other seven taps. This is a good pub, but best enjoyed outside the busy lunchtime and early evening periods.
The Fleet, an ancient buried river prominent in London’s history, still dribbles into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge, and as you turn right and ascend New Bridge Street, you’ll follow this old river valley up to Holborn Viaduct was the site of the first flyover in London, built nearly 150 years ago.
Just before coming to the traffic lights at Ludgate Circus, switch to the west side of the road by Bridewell Place. The next left you make is Bride Lane, which takes you on a pleasant shortcut to Fleet Street.
Pub number two: The Punch Tavern
The Punch Tavern, which can be accessed by turning onto Fleet Street, is of historical interest since it is believed that Punch magazine was conceived on these premises in 1841. Punch can be considered a forefather to America’s Mad Magazine. For 150 years, the staff of this satirical magazine met here until 1992, when it folded.
If you have the time, I would recommend visiting the building, as it possesses some fine early features, particularly a splendid mosaic entrance to the small building flanked by paintings of Mr. and Mrs. Punch.
The pub now caters to upper-middle-class city workers, and has prices to match; the beer is not as exciting as the architecture, being from national breweries such as Sharp’s and Marstons.
Back on Bride Lane, take the steps opposite the Crown & Sugarloaf to an alley nearby the Old Bell, historically the headquarters of journalists and printers. The church has the tallest Wren steeple in London and is associated with the tradition of the tiered wedding cake.
Follow Fleet Street westward. Look on the opposite side of the street for remnants of Fleet Street’s newspaper culture. Another small pub with some points of heritage interest is located just farther along on the left and is so well hidden by modern office buildings that the narrow facade is easy to miss.
Pub # 3: The Tipperary Pub
The Tipperary claims to be the first Irish pub in London, a claim supported by the words on its exterior board: that it was purchased and renovated in 1895 by J.G. Mooney & Co. of Dublin. The name Mooney, well-worn by time, appears on a slate atop the front door, and shamrocks are found in the mosaic flooring.
Originally called the Boar’s Head, the pub was renamed the Tipperary in 1918 so that it would commemorate the Great War song “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. The ground-floor bar is a long narrow room with wooden paneling, inset mirrors, and an imposing counter. Independent once again, it offers Marstons Pedigree Ales and three rotating guests.
Fleet Street runs along the shores of the Thames, and there are many alleyways and courtyards reminiscent of medieval cities that make up the area. In one of these, the next pub is located, with its lantern sign visible across the street just to the right, looking across from the Tipperary.
Pub # 4: The Olde Cheshire Cheese
The Olde Cheshire Cheese retains a domestic-style layout, which is unusual in London pubs. Two rooms off the entrance corridor give an impression of homeliness with their large fireplaces, and the paneling in these rooms is probably the oldest in any London pub. It’s easy to picture the right-hand side room without the Victorian bar counter, a remnant of a time when bar counters were non-existent and drinks were delivered to customers at their tables in jugs or pitchers from the cellar.
The Cheese also has cellar rooms and an upstairs restaurant, but the two ground-floor rooms remain the heart of the former tavern. Other unusual elements include the old fly screens with “OCC” inscribed on them, and above the doorway to the barroom is a warning: “Gentlemen only in this bar”.
The extension has significantly raised the size of the pub, which is a good thing as it becomes very crowded with tourists looking on in wonder. The main bar room, despite this, is often quiet enough to allow one to appreciate the wonderful paneling and glazing without being crowded.
During weekdays, turn left on Carey Street, and then through the gate by No. 57 (where the late David Bowie worked) into Lincoln’s Inn New Square, then pass through the Inn into the Old Buildings, where the gateway leads into Chancery Lane. This was named after the Inns of Chancery, which were attached to and acted as training institutes for the Inns of Court for some time.
If the New Square gate to Lincoln’s Inn is closed, turn right on Carey Street, passing the Knights Templar, and then left onto Chancery Lane. At the top of Chancery Lane, turn right and proceed up High Holborn crossing the street to the north on the other side. Follow the road around until you reach an impressive clock tower atop the Cittie of Yorke.
Pub # 5: Cittie of Yorke
Despite the appearance of antiquity, the pub on the ground floor was only constructed in 1923. Sometimes the cellar bar, which is a remnant of a much older building, is open and worth a look. The rear room with its large timber hall and high-pitched roof, however, is the highlight here.
It is unlike any other English pub, with its arcaded interior under clerestory windows and an array of booths designed after railway carriages, as well as a huge covered walkway above the servery that served huge casks of wine at one time. Don’t overlook the old nineteenth-century triangular stove in the center of the room, also a unique fixture that has an unusual flue, exiting downwards.
The pub is owned by Samuel Smith’s of Tadcaster, so the only real ale available is Old Brewery Bitter. The pub offers a good selection of food and is served by a server near the end of the room, but this is a pub worth visiting first and foremost for its architecture.
After leaving, if you detour just a few yards to the left, you will be able to see, across the street, the rickety-looking half-timbered building, which is the only remaining Inn of Chancery. The rest of the walk continues along High Holborn, at first to the junction with Kingsway near the Holborn Underground Station and then straight ahead to the final pub on this route, some 100 yards away on the left.
Pub # 6: The Princess Louise
The Princess Louise is an appropriate culmination to this route since Samuel Smith carried out an excellent restoration in 2007, which has created the most authentic Victorian interior of any pub in the city.
The pub, named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, has some of the finest tapestry and mirror work ever to be found in any pub. This is due to the skills of the celebrated firms of R. Morris and W.B. Simpson respectively.
In contrast to most recent restoration work, the quality of wood and glass in the replacement screens, which divide the interior into separate booths identically to the original pub, is excellent. The same applies to the new mosaic work on the newly reconstructed corridors of the interior.
Samuel Smiths deserves much praise for its efforts to restore this historically-important building to its former glory, even if they only serve one real ale, as usual in their London estate. In a few minutes, you can walk back along High Holborn and find yourself at Holborn Underground Station, on the Piccadilly and Central lines.
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