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 offer a fascinating look back through London’s history.
Those of who tend to lean more towards trendy bar culture, would do well to 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.
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. However, you may be surprised to learn that London’s heritage is often best seen in the centuries-old walls of the public houses around Holborn and Chancery Lane.
Ye Olde Mitre
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
This establishment just so happens to be a historical Sam Smiths pub. That name carries with it the rare boast of featuring an extremely rare cask version of Old Brewery Bitter. 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 tempt 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 Tavern
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.
The Lamb and Flag
Rose Street, Covent Garden
Here we have another contender for the title of London’s oldest pub. With 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 stories.
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.