Writing Portfolio

4.12.12

Three City pubs

Despite the much-publicised decline of the British pub, there are still quite literally hundreds of pubs in the City of London, and even a beer-loving City worker like me cannot possibly hope to visit them all! A glance at this week’s edition of Time Out told me that some Kingston University students are attempting to get UNESCO World Heritage Status for the London boozer as a ‘type’ (one wonders how they managed to pitch that one to their lecturers), so in the interest of furthering some legitimate research I would like to bring my top three City pubs to their, and everyone else’s, attention…

Ye Olde Mitre
1 Ely Court, Ely Place EC1N 6SJ (nearest Tube: Chancery Lane or Farringdon)
Hidden in an alley off Hatton Garden (Ely Court runs between it and Ely Place), this is one of those pubs which can be hard to find, and many is the City worker who has worked ‘just around the corner’ for ‘years’ and hasn’t quite managed to find this place. This is despite the fact that it’s been here for a very long time – it dates back to 1546 and was originally established to provide refreshments for the people who worked in the Bishop of Ely’s palace which stood on this site (which explains the name).
If you can find it, though, you shall have your reward in the form of a pint or three in a lovely pub that time appears to have forgotten about (although you can pay with plastic – even in 2012, you can’t do that in every pub). Small it undoubtedly is, but it has two bars and a very snug snug called ‘Ye Closet’. It’s a Fuller’s pub so it has London Pride on cask – always a good sign. It had Deuchar’s IPA as a guest beer when I visited, which is a rare but welcome sight in London. It also does very reasonably-priced bar snacks, including toasties for (just) under £2.
Be warned that if you want to drop in on a weekend, you’ll be out of luck as like many City pubs the Mitre is only open on weekdays.
By one of those fascinating quirks of history, the pub is technically part of the county of Cambridgeshire – a legacy of the Ely connection. It’s said that jewel thieves on the run from the police after trying their luck in nearby Hatton Garden used to come here because they thought the City of London Police didn’t have jurisdiction!

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet Street EC4A 2BU (nearest Tube: Blackfriars)
Establishments using the words ‘ye olde’ in the title can indicate a tourist-trap, but like the afore-mentioned Mitre, the Cheshire Cheese is entitled to use those words. Rebuilt after fire – the Great Fire (of 1666) to be precise – it’s located just off Fleet Street and consists of a series of dark passageways which lead to a number of dimly-lit bars. The word ‘labyrinthine’ springs to mind. Even regulars are said to get lost occasionally.
In terms of beer, the Cheese is a Sam Smith’s pub which means that although it may not be the best beer in London, it is by far and away the cheapest by some distance (for a Yorkshire brewery, Sam Smith’s is very well-represented in Central London, other noteworthy pubs of theirs being the Princess Louise and the Cittie of Yorke, both of which are on High Holborn). This is because the brewerys policy is to keep prices to a minimum by only increasing them in line with alcohol duty rises and inflation, and in addition to that they only sell beer from their own brewery (rest assured, they produce a wide range of beers). Another cost-cutting quirk is that you cant get big-name-brand spitrits of soft drinks - it’s all unnamed brands.
When I say this pub is old-fashioned, I mean it – if you want to sit on a sofa while watching the football on a big screen and listening to loud pop music, you’ll be severely disappointed as the Cheese has no TV, no music and, for that matter, no sofas (it’s bar stools and mis-matched wooden chairs here). That the place oozes history can be seen even before you go in – by the door, there’s a list of all of the Kings and Queens of England for as long as the pub has been open. It’s said to have been Samuel Johnson’s local – although there’s no written evidence to say that the great lexicographer drank there, he lived very close to it and would have had to walk past it if he wanted to go to Fleet Street so I think it’s safe to assume that he popped in for a pint every now and again. Famous patrons for whom documentary evidence exists include Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson and Mark Twain.

174 Queen Victoria Street EC4V 4EG (nearest Tube: Blackfriars)
A Victorian pub (built in 1875), the Black Friar is a narrow wedge-shaped building jammed up against the railway line. It, and the nearby station, gets its name from the Dominican priory that existed on this site in Medieval times. What’s really extraordinary about this pub is its interior, a real work of art which is unlike that of any other pub. The walls, clad in green, red and cream marble, are covered with depictions of merry monks. Above the fireplace, a large bas-relief bronze depicts them singing carols and playing instruments. Another, called ‘Saturday Afternoon’, shows them gathering grapes and harvesting apples. The work on the interior began in 1904. In the 1960s, the pub was threatened with demolition but was saved by a campaign led by the poet John Betjeman (who is also credited with having saved the fa├žade of St Pancras Station from demolition). 
This pub is owned by the Nicholsons chain, which is well-known in these parts for offering a wide choice of guest ales. Like its sister pubs (two of which are within very short walking distance from my office!), the Black Friar has an ever-changing selection of cask ales from all parts of the country. When I last visited, it had Sharps Doom Bar and Mordue Northumbrian Blonde to name but two.
 



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