Defining the Great British Pub
Tune into any classic British soap opera and you’re bound to notice that the plot’s proceedings will almost always lead back to the local drinking establishment. And why would anyone be surprised? The charming old walls of these local watering holes are bound to teach you a lesson or two about life, love and your limits!
The “Great British Pub” is a concept deeply ingrained in our nation’s sense of community, and while no two of these establishments are the same you’ll find that many charming features are preserved in pubs throughout the country. From the low ceilings and “last order” bell to the mahogany finish and the all too familiar regulars!
For those of you who tend to lean more towards trendy bar culture, why not consider a change of scenery for an evening? London’s midtown offers a wide range of these quintessentially British drinking spots, many of which were once frequented by famous patrons from as early as the time of William Shakespeare, including members of The Royal Family. This makes the neighbourhood a must-visit if you’re looking to sample some authentic Great British heritage on your next night out.
Holborn is a tried and true London favourite when it comes to after-work entertainment. This comes as no shock when you consider the wide range of tastes that the district has to cater for thanks to the streams of legal and media professionals. But as you join the lawyers, barristers and advertising executives on their weekly pub crawl, you might be surprised to find that London’s fascinating history is often best told within the centuries-old walls of the public houses around Holborn and Chancery Lane.
Grabbing a pint at one of the below is not only a chance to soak in the “Great British Pub” experience, but also take a journey back through time.
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern
Ye Olde Mitre’s Tudor-style interior calls back to the whispered rumour that Elizabeth I herself had danced around this tavern’s cherry tree with Sir Christopher Hatton. One of the oldest pubs in London, it is exceptionally well hidden down a blink-and-you-miss-it alley.
No visitor could dare miss the giant board proudly announcing “established in 1546”, in reference to the original Mitre Tavern that was built for the servants of the Palace of Bishop of Ely. The building has gone through several rounds of restoration, and today it serves an impressive range of ales as well as pies and stews as a property of the Crown.
Cittie of Yorke, Holborn
This establishment just so happens to be a historical Sam Smiths pub! If that name doesn’t mean much to you, it carries with it the rare boast of featuring an extremely rare cask version of Old Brewery Bitter. For a surprisingly reasonable price tag, this offers a rare opportunity to sample one of the only ‘real ales’ on the market, whilst standing on the grounds of a site that has hosted a great number of inns since the height of the medieval period (1430).
However, if that still isn’t enough to get you through the doors, then the Cittie of Yorke is also a Grade II listed building, a place that is as ornate as it is fascinating. With an exterior reminiscent of a 14th century townhouse, the medieval cellar is bound to make for a unique meeting spot with its impressive baronial hall, wooden beam ceilings, snug booths and intriguing cast-iron stove centrepiece.
The Old Bell, Fleet Street
A popular choice among the journalists of Fleet Street, this venue certainly holds a long and proud heritage! Back in the 1500s, it was the site of The Swan pub, which was unfortunately claimed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The Old Bell as we know it today was built by Sir Christopher Wren more than 300 years ago for his stonemasons, who were involved in the reconstruction of St Bride’s Church. The elaborately tiered spire you see today is actually a main source of inspiration for the iconic look that has become a standard wedding for cakes.
Our favourite fun fact of all, however, is of a more scandalous nature! Who could have guessed that this humble pub would rewrite history? During the Cold War, Eric Tullest, a journalist from the Sunday Times, had been given top-secret details of a national code-breaking facility but had left his notebook in this very pub. It is said that it was later found by a barmaid who, rattled by words like “secret” and “Moscow”, promptly handed it over to the police. The Foreign Office allowed the story to go ahead so long as the mention of the code-breaking facility was left out, preventing this major state secret from surfacing for another 20 years.
The Lamb and Flag
Here we have another contender for the title of London’s oldest pub. With the regulars supposedly including the likes of Charles Dickins and the poet, Samuel Butler, we can rest assured that The Lamb and Flag is certainly not short on a few good stories (or hauntings!). Allow your imagination to run wild while you enjoying some pub food classics next to an impressive roaring fireplace.
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Today, the pub’s interior boasts charming antique elements, old photos and a dark décor with a brass finish. One would never think that in the early 19th century the establishment was nicknamed “The Bucket of Blood” after hosting countless bare-knuckle fistfights at a time when Covent Garden had a more violent reputation.
And of course, we have the most famous story: the attack on John Dryden! A plaque on the building commemorates this incident in the nearby alley in 1679 after the release of a rather brave satirical piece against Louise de Kerouaille, believed to be King Charles II’s mistress.
Editor, Boutique London