LONDON - Australian friends were coming for the weekend and my wife was busily planning the itinerary: “I thought we’d go to the Changing of the Guard in the morning, then walk back to Trafalgar and go to the National Portrait Gallery. Then over to Harrods, and maybe finish up on Oxford Street for a little shopping. That okay with you?”
The will to live ebbed from my body.
I couldn’t imagine Crocodile Don in amongst the cashmere in Harrods or admiring paintings of twits in silk stockings who exiled his ancestors 200 years ago.
Above: Canadian beer drinkers are welcome to drop by London's Maple Leaf pub.
“Well, do you have a better idea?”
Aye, good wife, I do indeed. ’Tis time for ye olde London pub crawl.
As a transplanted Canadian who has devoted time and energy to the subject, a tour of historic pubs and sampling some real ale should be part of any trip to this great city.
Here, for the good readers of TraveLife, is a walking tour of central London pubs guaranteed to provide an evening to remember (half pint orders recommended). First stop:
The Blackfriar, 174 Queen Victoria St.
Located across the road from Blackfriars Underground station, the pub is built on the site of a medieval Dominican friary and features reliefs of jolly friars cavorting on the walls and ceiling. The interior might be the most beautiful of any pub in London, with a gorgeous marble bar. Henry VIII, with Anne Boleyn waiting in the wings, had his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled on this very site in 1533. Try the Sharp’s Doom Bar.
From The Blackfriar, turn right and walk up to Fleet St. Heading west (left), look for a lantern on the north side directing patrons up an alleyway to …
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet St.
This rabbit warren of a pub sprawls over three dimly-lit floors and was rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of London. An army of ink-stained wretches drank here during Fleet Street’s heyday but the pub’s most famous patron was Charles Dickens. A brass plate on a seat indicates his preferred perch. (Warning: Anyone over six feet should consider a helmet.) Old Brewery Bitter your best bet.
Left: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Right: It's hard to get a seat at the Ye Olde Mitre.
Out the door, turn right and follow the sign for Dr. Johnson’s house in Gough Square. Rub the statue of his cat (Hodge) for luck and make your way north to Holborn Circus. Cross the intersection and walk up Hatton Garden past the NatWest Bank. Look for a tiny alleyway on your right (next to No. 9), leading to Ely Court and …
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court (off Hatton Garden)
Just finding this place deserves a drink. One thirsty customer claims he’d worked around the corner for six years before stumbling upon it. A delightful traditional pub dating back to 1546 where Elizabeth I once danced around the cherry tree that still stands inside. Who knew pole dancing was medieval? Fuller’s London Pride sold here. Yum. (Note: Closed on weekends.)
Head back to Holborn Circus and walk west along High Holborn. Continue past Chancery Lane Underground station to ...
Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn
This pub dates back to 1430 and boasts a striking interior. The main room features a long bar, towering ceiling and dark wooden alcoves. Huge barrels sit above the bar. You almost expect to see mutton and mead on the menu. Old Brewery Bitter best bet here.
Continue west along High Holborn, past Holborn Underground station, then left onto Endell St. A short walk brings you to …
Left: The Cross Keys has lots of foliage at the entrance.. Right: Lamb & Flag formerly the Bucket of Blood.
The Cross Keys, 31 Endell St.
This pub is best known for the mass of foliage protecting its entrance. The cozy interior has the feel of a real local in touristy Covent Garden. Memorabilia of every kind cover the walls, including a napkin signed by Elvis, thank you very much.
Continue down Endell St. to Long Acre. Go right and walk to Rose St. Turn left and follow to …
Lamb & Flag, 33 Rose St.
A Covent Garden favourite since 1772, tucked up an alley and once known as “The Bucket of Blood” for its bare-knuckle boxing matches. Seating is tight on the ground floor but there are more seats upstairs and the ambience is good outside. Dickens was a regular, as was John Dryden, who was almost killed here by thugs. Poets never get any respect. Another Fuller’s pub with great beer, including London Pride.
The Lamb & Flag is a good place to stop but Canadians with robust livers might prefer to walk down Bedford St., turn left on Maiden Lane and finish up at ...
Maple Leaf, 41 Maiden Lane
This Canadian-themed pub in Covent Garden is the destination of choice for many a Canuck in need of a North American sports fix, especially NFL fans. With multiple flatscreens, a good selection of beer and friendly staff, this is also a great pub to watch international soccer and rugby. They serve coffee, too. Cheers!
A pint of hand-pumped beer in central London will cost you around 4 pounds ($6.50 Cdn.). Pub meals are in the 10-pound neighborhood. For more on great traditional pubs in London and the U.K. visit: The Good Pub Guide www.thegoodpubguide.co.uk
/ Campaign for Real Ale www.camra.org.uk