Last month, I was kindly invited to join the Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tour (disclaimer: via Twitter for free – lucky me!) and being that I had found myself kind of stuck in a rut with the pubs that I frequent in central London, took up the kind offer only if to provide a useful service to the Way Out Far readership and not simply just to enjoy several pints of London’s finest beer and ale on a Friday night. Honest.
I was told to meet to the group outside Holborn Station at 6.45pm by leader and pub enthusiast Vic Norman who you can’t miss when you arrive as he’s got rather snazzy bright red hair. The group slowly got bigger as participants arrived, with around ten of us set to head of on a local exploration of the Holborn, Bloomsbury and Chancery Lane area. Vic runs several routes around London all with intrguing names that become clear as you make your way through the pubs. Our tour was ‘The Jar and Marbles’ and amongst the group was an American Navy Admiral, a special effects guy, a lovely London couple and Vic’s brother who was aiming to earn his badge for attending all six of Vic’s tours.
We made our way first to The Ship Tavern behind Holborn Tube station which has been around since 1549 and is so tucked out of the way you might have never known it was there…well I certainly didn’t! My favourite fact from the ever knowledgeable Vic was that the pub used to host secret Catholic Mass from behind the bar during the reign of Henry VIII. Look-outs would let the priest know if any officials were approaching so that he could escape and the attendees could act normal. We got a quick twenty minutes to warm up with our first drinks and then headed to the next pub.
Next up was the Princess Louise round the corner which was possibly the evening’s highlight for this Londoner. I had walked past it hundreds of times and never thought to go inside. As I alluded to before, I have become very comfortable with the pubs I frequent. I like to judge a pub on how busy it gets, how quickly you can get to the bar, whether there’s possibility of a seat, the beers and ales on tap and location. It has to be said, and I cannot be the only one to admit this, is that my choice of pub is usually based on how close to my office in Soho it is. The Princess Louise is only a fifteen minute walk away and I shall definitely be dropping in more often if only to gawk at the beautiful Victorian interior.
There are tiled walls, glass panels between the mahogany island bar and a marble effect throughout with the small booths giving an authentic feel for how Victorian ale drinkers used to behave no doubt separated form ruffians! Quite frankly, it’s gorgeous and I wholeheartedly recommend a visit even if you don’t plan to have a drink there (although it’s a Sam Smith’s pub so you would be missing out on some great beer).
The rest of the tour took us to four more impressive pubs around the area although I’ll not give away where except to say you’ll walk past The British Museum, Great Ormond Street Hospital and through the area where the Bloomsbury Set used to knock about. I confess that I had never even known that Bloomsbury had a ‘set’ and have since been enjoyed reading about their escapades since the tour. I may have lived in London all my life, but I certainly haven’t seen all it has to offer!
I certainly recommend joining one of Vic’s London pub tours: he was super friendly as were the group at large as you’ll get to see a slice of London that you may miss – even if you live here! It would be an ideal evening to spend on a short break in the city too. I will certainly be keeping my eyes a little more open when I walk past my usual haunts in town as I may learn something (plus get to sup on a nice beer or ale…)
Do you have a favourite London pub you’d love to tell us about? We’d love to hear about it below and we’re talking PUBS here, not bars. Chain bars and anywhere where they play music too loud and they have a happy hour for cocktails isn’t a pub. We want to know about the grimy, the beautiful and the beer!