2009 Karo Diary: London Pubs. Pub Reviews by Jeffrey Bell, London.
15th Edition

Foreword by Peter Stohler, Zurich
Anyone can have a quiet beer at home. But in the UK, a beer at home is nowhere near as satisfying as one enjoyed down at the pub. Pubs offer so much more: a unique atmosphere rooted in a dusty past, accompanied by a form of ritual bonding with like-minded drinking companions. For lovers of high-gloss styling, pub decor is a provocative statement of anti-design.

The dark surfaces redolent of a musty hominess bring to mind curio cabinets filled with exotic museum requisites: mysteriously patterned wallpaper, decades-old odours trapped in thick curtains, wood panelling with a streaky paint job, sticky leatherette upholstery, faded gold picture frames, gloomy lighting. The absolute antithesis to the designer aesthetics currently taking over London is provided in the form of a mummified cat at Dirty Dick’s at the gateway to London’s East End.

The striking images captured by Susan Knapp are complemented by Jeffrey Bells commentary on the history of and recent developments in the London pub scene. Not only do pubs offer a particular ambience, but also exceptional English beer, referred to as real ale, such as Adnams and Fuller’s London Pride, which are highly recommended by the homebrewer/publisher and her expert adviser from London. Cheers!

(Ed.) Jeffrey Bell is publican at The Gunmakers, located at 13 Eyre Street Hill in Clerkenwell. They serve excellent real cask ale, food and wine, weekdays only. Highly recommended!
> The Gunmakers 

The Seven Stars
If you eavesdrop on the conversations of other customers, you might hear lawyers fresh from the Royal Courts of Justice boasting of their latest rhetorical flourishes. If you fail to keep an eye on your pint, Tom Paine the pub cat might clamber up on the bar and inspect the contents. The landlady, Roxy Beaujolais, is a renowned chef and a much-loved hostess. She seeks out the best beers to match with her food. The pub pre-dates the Great Fire of London, which destroyed most of the buildings nearby in 1666. The narrow staircase which leads to the lavatories is famously difficult to navigate, punishing the careless or inebriated.

The Seven Stars, 53–54 Carey Street, Holborn WC2A 2JB, Telephone 020 7242 8521
Monday–Friday 11:00–23:00, Saturday 12:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–22:30
Underground station: Temple
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Dark Star Hophead from Hayward’s Heath, West Sussex

The Jerusalem Tavern
Walking into the pub for the first time, you would be forgiven for thinking you had entered a building that was unchanged from Dr. Samuel Johnson’s day. In fact, the interior, convincing as it is, only dates back to the 1990s. When St Peter’s Brewery of Suffolk opened this, their only London pub, they renovated an old house to resemble a city tavern of old. The name is inspired by the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, which is accessible down a narrow alley that runs by the pub. Inside, you can rely on encountering a wide variety of beer styles every time you visit. As many as six cask ales will be on offer, some enhanced with spices and other traditional flavourings.

The Jerusalem Tavern, 55 Britton Street, Clerkenwell EC1M 5UQ
Telephone 0207 490 4281, www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk
Opening hours: Monday–Friday 11:00–23:00 (closed weekends)
Underground station: Farringdon
Suggested cask conditioned ale: St Peter’s Mild from Bungay, Suffolk

The Betsey Trotwood
In an era when bands are created on television programmes, The Betsey’s cellar bar provides a venue for those who work their way to the top. It holds only 50 people, but attracts musicians who could fill a space many times the size. The lure of performing an intimate set in such an atmospheric location has recently drawn the likes of Kate Nash, Keane and the Magic Numbers. Upstairs, ales are dispensed from five handpumps as the sound of carefully-chosen music fills the air. The pub is named after a creation of Charles Dickens. She was David Copperfield’s great-aunt, a complex and fearsome character who stares out from the sign that swings outside on busy Farringdon Road.

The Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, EC1R 3BL
Telephone 020 7253 4285, www.thebetsey.com
Monday–Thursday 12:00–23:00, Friday–Saturday 12:00–00:30
Underground station: Farringdon
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger from Faversham, Kent

The Harp
After braving London’s glittering-but-brash West End, there is a place of refuge for those of us who prefer homelier pleasures. The name speaks of Welsh connections, but today it is stewarded by an Irish lady and her all-female bar staff. Oil paintings of actors and actresses – including a young James Mason – are crammed together on the walls. The bar is lined with stools, treasured perches not to be relinquished lightly. Most drinkers have to stand in what little space is available, consoled by the pint in their hand. Around the bar are pump clips of former guest ales, some yellowed with age. The selection changes daily, and always offers treats from around the country.

The Harp, Chandos Place, Covent Garden WC2N 4HS, Telephone 020 7836 0291
Monday–Saturday 11:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–22:30
Underground station: Leicester Square
Suggested cask ale: Black Sheep Bitter from Masham, North Yorkshire

The Grenadier
As you wander down Wilton Mews, you might feel like a trespasser. Walk on by the homes of the super-wealthy, turn a corner and be surprised by a most beautiful pub. With a bright red sentry box outside, The Grenadier certainly has the look of a straight-backed soldier. As you climb a few steps and enter the tiny bar, be prepared for an assault on the senses. Inside, everything seems ineffably close. The front bar is tiny, as are the two cramped yet opulent dining rooms behind it. An original pewter bar top is just one of many attractions. The walls are adorned with military memorabilia, in keeping with the pub’s former function as an officers’ mess for the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards.

The Harp, Chandos Place, Covent Garden WC2N 4HS, Telephone 020 7836 0291
Monday–Saturday 11:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–22:30
Underground station: Leicester Square
Suggested cask ale: Black Sheep Bitter from Masham, North Yorkshire

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
As if the dark-panelled ground floors bars were not enough, the cellars of the pub offer an even more remarkable experience. The vaults are thought to belong to a thirteenth century Carmelite monastery that once stood on the site. The Great Fire of 1666 cleared the way for the current pub, which emerged from the ashes a year later. Since then, it has seen the reigns of fifteen monarchs, who are listed to the right of the main entrance. A photograph from the 1920s is hung downstairs at the exact spot where it was taken. The message is conveyed clearly: nothing has changed at all. A warning to the unprepared: there is almost no natural light within the pub. The gloom has its own special charm.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, City of London EC4A 2BU, Telephone 020 7353 6170
Monday–Friday 11:00–23:00, Saturday 12:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–17:00
Underground station: Blackfriars
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire

The Crown Tavern
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin must have known this pub very well. During his six months in London in 1905, he worked at 37a Clerkenwell Green, just a few metres away from The Crown Tavern. Some say he met a young Stalin here for lunch, but then other pubs in the area claim that distinction too. What we do know for certain is that a music hall, the Apollo, operated upstairs. Today, the interior is a pastiche of contemporary shabby chic and Victorian splendour. Clerkenwell Green fails to live up to its name and is blighted by parked cars and concrete, but you can still sense that this was once a village centre. The Crown is at the very heart of a revived, historic district of London.

The Crown Tavern, 43 Clerkenwell Green, Islington EC1R 0EG, Telephone 020 7253 4973
Monday–Thursday & Sunday 12:00–00:00, Friday–Saturday 12:00–1:00
Underground station: Farringdon
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Keighley, West Yorkshire

Cittie of Yorke
Today’s crass theme pub might just be tomorrow’s architectural gem. The Cittie of Yorke was built in the style of a Tudor banqueting hall in the early twentieth century. Empty barrels, tiny alcoves and even a minstrel’s gallery conjure up an illusion of a medieval England that probably never existed. It is thronged daily with office workers who crowd the long bar – the only quiet time comes just after the doors are opened. In the middle of the hall is a curious, free standing fireplace that appears to emit no smoke. Instead, it is diverted via a convoluted system of flues under the floor, up through the walls and out of a chimney on the roof. This masterful piece of engineering is representative of the latter-day period to which the pub’s decor really belongs.

Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn, Holborn WC1V 6BS, Telephone 020 7242 7670
Monday–Saturday 11:00–23:30
Underground station: Chancery Lane
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire

Ye Olde Mitre
Perhaps the most difficult pub in London to locate, Ye Olde Mitre is hidden in an alleyway by the old jewellers’ shops of Hatton Garden. Look out for a metal sign in the shape of a Bishop’s headpiece, or you will surely miss the entrance. It was first built in 1547 within the precincts of the palace of Bishop of Ely for his servants. The trunk of a cherry tree, preserved in a glass cabinet in the snug bar, once marked the boundary of his diocese. Due to the connection with Ely, the pub and the surrounding buildings were technically part of the County of Cambridgeshire until the late twentieth century. Drunken brawlers apprehended on the premises faced a train journey to Cambridge to appear before stern magistrates there.

Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Holborn, EC1N 6SJ, Telephone 020 7405 4751
Monday–Friday 11:00–23:00 (closed weekends)
Underground station: Chancery Lane
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Caledonian Deuchars IPA from Slateford, Edinburgh

The Ten Bells
Original pub names are as precious and historic as the buildings themselves. It was a relief, therefore, when The Ten Bells had its original moniker restored, after a brief spell as Jack the Ripper. Perhaps the former owners can be forgiven for drawing attention to the pub’s connection to the allegedly aristocratic villain. It was here that he met one of his victims in 1888. Today, the most interesting feature is the impressive ceramic work inside, depicting an eighteenth century street scene. The bar has been stripped and opened out into one room, which is made to jump on a Friday night when a DJ stand is introduced. Battered, mismatching furniture has been installed to appeal to the young crowd who have made Shoreditch their own.

The Ten Bells, 84 Commercial Street, Spitalfields E1 6LY, Telephone 020 7366 1721
Monday–Thursday & Sunday 12:00–24:00, Friday–Saturday 12:00–1:00
Underground station: Liverpool Street
Suggested cask ale: Wells Bombardier from Bedford, Bedfordshire

The Florence
This brewpub in leafy Herne Hill is thoroughly modern, yet adheres to an ancient practice, proving that appearances can be deceptive. There was a time when most taverns brewed their own ale. Beer was rarely transported more than a few metres from where it was made. Today, the tradition lives on in a few select places, and this new pub is one of them. A mash tun is visible behind a glass screen. On brew days one of the youngest brewers in the country can be seen at work, boiling wort which will be transformed into golden, zesty ale. Once the beer has fermented and matured in the cellar, it is drawn via handpump to an impressive island bar. An open kitchen sits opposite, the chef competing with the brewmaster for the customer’s attention.

The Florence, 133 East Dulwich Road, Herne Hill SE24 0NG, Telephone 020 7236 4987
Monday–Thursday 11:00–00:00, Friday 11:00–1:30, Saturday 10:00–1:30, Sunday 10:00–00:00
Underground station: Brixton, Thameslink: Herne Hill
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Weasel, brewed on site

Dirty Dick’s
Refurbishments of old pubs are much feared and despised by those who seek to preserve the past. In some cases however, needs must. Dirty Dick’s is a case in point. The name refers to Nathaniel Bentley, an ironmonger. According to legend, his betrothed died on the eve of their nuptials. Overcome with grief, he locked the room in which the wedding feast had been laid out, never to open it again. He remained in mourning for the rest of his life, never washing or changing his clothes. The macabre contents of his house – an assortment of junk and dead cats – ended up as decorations in this Bishopsgate pub. The entire collection remained there until the 1980s, until it was considered prudent to give the place a deep clean. Only a few artifacts remain.

Dirty Dick’s, 202 Bishopsgate, Spitalfields EC2M 4NR, Telephone 020 7283 5888, www.dirtydicks.co.uk
Monday–Thursday 11:00–00:00, Friday–Saturday 11:00–1:00, Sunday 11.00–22:30
Underground station: Liverpool Street
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Young’s Bitter from Bedford, Bedfordshire

The Royal Oak
On Saturday evenings, a pub that is still closed at 17:59 is full of life within minutes. As soon as the latch is off the door at 6 pm, the place begin to fill up. The Royal Oak is one of London’s finest pubs, and the only one owned by Harvey’s Brewery of Lewes, Sussex. The interior retains partitions that were once commonplace, before it became modish to fashion drinking barns from elegant pubs. The front area has wooden floors and plenty of room to stand and drink. To the rear, a more genteel lounge bar offers soft furnishings and carpets, and is more suitable for diners. There is even a tap and jug area, where women and children were once sent to a special hatch to purchase beer for the dinner table at home, a practice that has long since died out.

The Royal Oak, 44 Tabard Street, Borough SE1 4JU, Telephone 020 7407 0043
Monday–Friday 11:00–23:00, Saturday 18:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–17:00
Underground station: Borough
Suggested cask ale: Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter from Lewes, East Sussex

The Lamb Tavern
The Victorians were preoccupied with privacy. Well-to-do pub patrons preferred to be hidden from those serving them as they indulged in the demon drink. Snob screens – rotating opaque panels of wood and glass – shielded them from the bar staff as they ordered the next round. The Lamb is one of very few pubs to retain these in an original setting. Denied eye contact with your server, content yourself instead with pictures of once-famous actors and actresses from past eras. A huge mahogany music box by the door can fill the pub with the strains of the Blue Danube if you make a suitably generous charitable donation to nearby Coram’s Fields, a playground for the children of London.

The Lamb Tavern, 94 Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury WC1N 3LZ, Telephone 020 7405 0713
Monday–Saturday 12:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–16:00, 19:00–22:30
Underground station: Russell Square
Suggested bottle conditioned ale: Young’s Special London Ale from Bedford, Bedfordshire

The Holly Bush
When London expanded, it swallowed up villages in the surrounding countryside. Hampstead is one that retained its character even when it became an inner suburb of an imperial capital. Approaching The Holly Bush, you will negotiate steep stairs, passing squat doorways of cottages that cling together on the built-up hillside. The pub was originally a stables, and was only converted to its current use in the early 1800s. The pub was one of the last in London to be gas-lit. Worthy tomes and periodicals are scattered around the bar area, inviting you to combine your drinking with a bout of self-improvement. Unusually for London, the livery of Benskins of Watford is displayed prominently. The brewery closed in 1972, and sadly their beers are no more.

The Holly Bush, 22 Holly Mount, Hampstead NW3 6SG, Telephone 020 7435 2892, www.hollybushpub.com
Monday–Saturday 12:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–22:30
Underground station: Hampstead
Suggested cask conditioned ale: Adnams Broadside from Southwold, Suffolk

The Grapes
London’s Docklands have changed beyond recognition. Glittering apartment blocks line the riverside, themselves dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Only a building as highly regarded as The Grapes could have survived such extensive redevelopment. Charles Dickens knew the pub well, having been coerced into singing and dancing on a table there as a little boy. Perhaps he was trying to exorcise those childhood demons when he immortalised the pub in Our Mutual Friend, basing The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters on it. The rear deck, reached via a narrow staircase, sits directly on the Thames. It is the perfect place to enjoy the fine seafood on offer.

The Grapes, 76 Narrow Street, Limehouse E14 8BP, Telephone 020 7987 4396
Monday–Thursday 12:00–15:00, 17:30–23:00, Friday–Saturday 12:00–23:00, Sunday 12:00–22:30
Underground station: Limehouse
Suggested cask ale: Adnams Bitter from Southwold, Suffolk

The George Inn
Once, horse-drawn coaches were the most popular form of cross-country transport. Change came in the form of the railways, which spread out from the North East of England across Britain and the world. The George, a coaching inn sitting on the approach to London Bridge, found itself turned into a depot for the Great Northern Railway. It has now been restored and is the only pub owned and protected by the National Trust. The cobbled courtyard, overlooked by traditional galleries, is a favoured spot in summer. Inside, the bar is hemmed in to a narrow corridor. The Old Bar – once a waiting room – is perhaps most appealling: the atmosphere will transport you to a very different era as you enjoy your beer.

The George Inn, 77 Borough High Street, Southwark SE1 1NH, Telephone 020 7407 2056
Monday–Saturday 11:00–23:00, Sunday 11:00–22:30
Underground station: London Bridge
Suggested cask ale: George Ale, brewed for the pub by Adnams in Southwold, Suffolk

The Dove Inn
At just four feet two inches wide and seven foot long, the secondary bar at The Dove is said to the smallest in any public house in Britain. Records show that this famous riverside pub began life as The Doves Coffee House, but switched over to selling beer during the early 1800s. At that time Hammersmith was still rural, far from the bustle of the Cities of Westminster and London. George Izzard, a proprietor of the pub whose tenure lasted from 1931 to 1965, wrote an engaging autobiography with a sadly unimaginative title: One for the Road. Izzard name-dropped celebrity regulars. According to him, Alec Guinness always partook in his namesake stout from Dublin, whereas Dylan Thomas was a fan of mixed pints of mild ale and bitter.

The Dove Inn, 19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith W6 9TA, Telephone 020 8748 9474
Monday–Saturday 11:00–23:00, Sunday 12.00–22:30
Underground station: Ravenscourt Park
Suggested cask ale: Fuller’s ESB (Extra Special/Strong Bitter) from Chiswick, London

> British Guild of Beer Writers