Williams Ale and Cider House
The first time we walked into this pub we were struck by the marked contrast between the hustle and bustle of the streets of London outside, and the relative tranquillity and modest rustic charm of the interior of the pub. There’s quite a collection of old pub prints around the walls, a rather marvellous etched mirror with an ornate golden frame, and thankfully in this age of mobile phones and laptops, a collection of daily newspapers on offer for some quiet reading. Rather surprisingly, this extensive collection of ales is supplied by a pub that is ultimately owned by Greene King. It’s been rebranded under their Metropolitan Pub Company chain, and if this is an example of how they’re going to turn out, let’s hope that there’s plenty more on the way.
22-24 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS 020 7247 5163
The Viaduct Tavern
This pub is a fine old building from the outside, as it curves gloriously round to link Giltspur Street and Newgate Road, but inside it switches to a higher plane altogether. It’s a genuine survivor of the Victorian gin-palace days, which can be seen in virtually every corner of the pub, and is very much gin-focused. Plenty of beer, though, because it’s a Fuller’s house, so no need to worry on that score.
Dating back to 1869, the pub still features an old booth from which the landlady would dispense gin tokens to customers which they could later swap at the bar for more gin (not everybody was trusted to handle money in those days). In a way there’s almost too much history here to take in with just one visit. For instance, it is alleged that the old Newgate Prison cells were down in what is now the basement of the pub, harking back to an era when some criminals would be publicly executed.
The pub has a magnificent interior, with ornate mirrors, decorative glasswork, and large wall murals depicting various different themes e.g. banking or the arts. Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling, either, with its interlocking swirling panels, and make a special point of going to the back of the pub to see the etched glass panels alongside the old gin booth. Lovers of gin will be in heaven. Beer lovers like us will feel pretty content as well.
Cittie of Yorke
Rather astonishingly, given its appearance, this pub was rebuilt in the 1920s, although buildings have stood on the site for hundreds of years. Even the name Cittie of Yorke is new, having only been given to the pub in 1979 when it was taken over by Samuel Smith’s brewery. It used to be a coffee house prior to becoming a pub again, as it was when it was first built, and that is reflected in the wooden booths that you’ll find inside. Deals would have been struck in these booths, but now they’re just occupied by drinkers and diners.
When we first got here, we thought it looked reasonable enough from the outside with its old wooden façade, but then you open the door and step inside. Your first impressions will be of sheer size. It’s like stepping into a timbered church, complete with high vaulted ceiling. The wooden booths can be found on the right-hand side of the bar, and your eye will probably be caught by the large vats that sit above and beside the long bar. There’s also a separate front bar and a cellar bar, but the latter isn’t always available. It’s even more unusual to see the beer garden open at the back. There are many glorious pubs in London, but for a jaw-dropping first impression when you enter the bar, this one is hard to beat. It’s magnificent.
22 High Holborn, London WC1V 6BN Tel: 020 7242 7670
The Princess Louise
The Grade II listed Princess Louise first opened its doors to the public in the early 1870s, and is named after Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There was a remodelling of the pub as recently as 1891, and a later, very sympathetic, rework in 2007. This restored the pub to be more like the original version, even bringing back the glass-walled cubicles that the Victorians admired so much.
The interior of the pub is a true gem. Plenty of multi-coloured tile work? Check. Mahogany bar top? Check. Large, ornate mirrors? Check. It probably looked very similar in its Victorian days, and it’s a joy that this time capsule is still with us today. Not for nothing has it been referred to as a ‘national treasure’.
The pub is run and maintained by the Samuel Smith brewery, who deserve a pat on the back for the state of the pub. Their Old Brewery bitter, served here in cask form when we were last at the bar, is remarkably cheap for a pub in this part of London. Well, anywhere in London, come to that.
208 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EP 020 7405 8816
Tottenham Court Road
The Museum Tavern
The pub is part of the Taylor Walker group, founded in 1730, although the name Taylor Walker now belongs to Punch Taverns. The pub itself has a long history, dating back to the early 18th century when there was a pub on the site called The Dog and Duck, hinting at the hunting that used to take place on the nearby marshland.
When The British Museum opened up in the 1760s, the pub opportunistically changed its name to The Museum Tavern, and that is how it remains today. The current building can trace a lot of its fixtures and fittings back to 1855, although we’ve lost some things along the way, like the partitions that used to give Victorian drinkers their much-loved privacy. However, plenty still remains, and you’ll find much elaborate wood and glasswork to entertain the eye. When you’re having your drink, reflect on the fact that the likes of Karl Marx and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used to drink here. We wonder if any Sherlock Holmes stories were plotted in The Museum Tavern?
49 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3BA 020 7242 8987
Notting Hill Gate
The Churchill Arms
The pub was built in 1750, and has seen many famous visitors over the years. Among them were Winston Churchill’s grandparents, who drank here in the 1800s, and from whom the pub takes its name. Today it is an old-fashioned boozer packed with Churchill memorabilia. They take the theme to heart, and sometimes have party nights focusing on the 1940s.
If you’re in London in the couple of weeks before Christmas, that’s the perfect time to pay an evening visit here. Down come the floral decorations and up go the Christmas lights, seemingly bigger and better every year. Landlord Gerry O’Brien has been doing it for about thirty years now, and uses upwards of 20,000 lights and 90 trees. It’s truly a sight to behold, and it must also be one of the only pubs to win an award at the Chelsea Flower Show.
119 Kensington Church St, London W8 7LN Tel: 020 7727 4242
About the authors
Pete Gerrard went to London to study for a degree in astronomy at University College London, and in the finest student tradition perfected a 9-pub crawl through some of the city’s finest pubs. He’s been extending his London pub crawl ever since. Two of those original nine (The Lamb and The Princess Louise) are in this book.
Mike Gerrard is an award-winning travel and drinks writer, and a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. He lived in London for 15 years, and has written about beer for magazines and websites including Beer Advocate, Perceptive Travel, The Huffington Post and the US drinks magazine Chilled, where he is an Editorial Staff Writer.