LONDON'S OLDEST DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS
I have heard it said that London's history can be measured by two things, churches and pubs. Since I am pretty much an atheist (unless of course if I am flying through turbulence) I thought why not visit the oldest places in London where one can throw one back, get sozzled and wet your whistle...
LONDON'S OLDEST PUBS
So here is where things get a little cloudy like a pint of Hoegaarden. London's oldest pub? It depends on how you define "oldest"? Is it the oldest name...building...location... license...? Trying to find the definitive answer could lead oneself to drink so I have decided on a collection of the oldest noteworthy pubs of "ye olde" distinction. Just so you know the term "ye olde" is just marketing.
"The oldest licensed premises in London," is The White Hart. It stands at Drury Lane and Holborn, a junction that goes back to Roman times. Archives show that this location was the first and oldest licensed premise in London dating back to 1216. But the actual pub White Hart did not come along on this site until the 15th century where since then, there has been a pub with that name, in that location. The history of this site is notorious with the undesirables and highwaymen of that time. However the actual building there now is only 100 years old so I wasn't feeling the strong sense of the history I was after.
The Hoop and Grapes was more what I was expecting. Originally called Hops and Grapes to show it sold beer and wine (not sure when they added the extra "o"). Great old building and tons of character. Built in 1593 it was the only timber framed building in The City of London to survive the Great Fire. The fire stopped an incredibly close 50 yards from the pub.
Fun Fact: The Hoop and Grapes' entire building is on a 18 inch tilt
Another contender for "Ye Oldest Pub" is The Lamb and Flag established in 1623. It is located buried down a little back alley in Covent Garden and like most places that have seen their share of drunk people it too has its "tavern trauma". Stories of attempted murders, muggings, duals and overall men behaving badly have put the Lamb and Flag in the London history books and written into many a fictional novel. Charles Dickens was a regular here.
Fun Fact: Written in script around the pub reads 'My purpose is to die in a tavern, so that wine might be close to my dying mouth. Then a choir of angels will happily sing, may God be merciful toward this drinker.'
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - Rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of London this pub is a must see if you are looking to get a real sense of "olde" London as told through old beer goggles. The ceilings are low, the place is dark and gloomy and it is perfect. You can feel the ghosts in this place. Outside the pub's alley entrance is a list of the monarchs that have visited this pub. Charles Dickens, clearly being a man who enjoyed his ale also frequented the Cheshire Cheese as did Mark Twain and P..G Woehouse. The pub was made reference to in many a novel including Dickens" Tale of Two Cities.
Fun Fact: For 40 years the pub was associated with a parrot named Polly who was renown for her abilities to speak obscenities. The rumoured favourite was 'Fuck the Kaiser".
One of the oldest exteriors is that of The Spaniards Inn, built in 1585, although not a pub until some 150 years later. It too had their famous clientele of the day including Keats, Dickens and Bryon. Seems like those poets really love their ale. If you are up for a lovely pub walk it is one of my faves. As it is located on the edge of Hampstead Heath and Highgate you could go for a beautiful treed walk though the Heath and really earn your pint after your walk. I love this place in the summer. Beautiful gardens and patio.
Fun Fact: Poet John Keats reportedly wrote his famous "Ode To A Nightingale" in this pub's garden.
There seem to be no challengers on this category London's Oldest Irish Pub, it is The Tipperary. Originally called the Boar's Head it was the first Irish pub outside Ireland. It has retained most of its 1700's charm with its wooden panelling and green etched glass giving it a very cozy feeling inside. In 1918 the pub changed its name to 'The Tipperary' from the song 'It's A Long Way to Tipperary' to honour the Irish men who fought in the war. 'The Boar's Head' name was retained to the first floor bar.
As an aside, I happened to be in The Tipperary on Valentine's Day. There were two guys at the bar (one can be seen in the lower left corner in the photo below) who had taken control over the bar's iPad playlist. The two men were playing songs from the "Single And I Don't Care" playlist. True story. They sang in full proud voice to 99 LuftBallons (the German version of course) and Avril Lavigne's "Keep Holding On" to name a few. I believe I know why they were alone on Valentine's Day.
Fun Fact: The Tipperary was the first pub outside Ireland to serve Guinness.
London's Oldest Wine Bar
The Olde Wine Shades. Love this place. It is what you might expect from an 1663 building including old warped timbers, low curved brick cellars and secret rooms and even a old smuggler's tunnel used to sneak barrels of wine into the bar from the Thames to avoid the tax collector.
The place not only survived the Great Fire due to the fact the original owner was wealthy and built the building out of brick but it narrowly escaped being bombed in the Blitz in 1940 where the buildings very near to them were destroyed. The Smuggler's Tunnel collasped in the bombing and has been permanently sealed, but not forgotten. Wine Shades reportedly has one of the most respected wine cellars in London.
Fun Fact: The Olde Wine Shades predates the word "pub", and the invention of the piano and the newspaper.
7,000 Pubs In London
So my pub crawl is far from over. London has a estimated 7,000 plus pubs. However, I might need a little break before I venture out again. Too much more drinking and I will next be blogging on London's Top Rehab Places for The Social Drinker.
In closing I thought it would be fit to finish with a drinking limerick. This one was taught to me from my British father when I was just a wee lass. A tender moment between a father and his little girl.
On the chest of a barmaid at Yale
were tattooed the prices of ale,
and on her behind,
for the sake of the blind,
was the same information in Braille