London's Historic Pubs
‘Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety,’ as Shakespeare wrote in Henry V. It’s likely he was referring to his experience of The George Inn, an Elizabethan inn-yard theatre in a cobbled courtyard, near where he lived in Southwark. Many more famous names drank here, including Dickens, Chaucer, Churchill and Princess Margaret.
The original inn was burnt down in 1676 and quickly rebuilt to the one you see today – in fact this is London’s last remaining galleried inn, and now owned by the National Trust. Its wood-panelled interior, oak beams and outdoor seating, where the horse-drawn coaches would have rested, draw in many after-work locals for a real ale.
Glamorous and grisly history meets at the Old Bank of England. The bank traded here for 87 years until 1975, after which it was bought by a London brewing company that restored the building to its former glory. It was also on the site of the infamous barbershop owned by Sweeney Todd – aka the Demon Barber of Fleet Street – and Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop.
With humorous nod to its past, the pub serves pies today, including its safer filling of steak and ale, but it’s the ornate main bar which is the real draw: ornate dark wood fittings, high ceilings and walls lined with old prints. Below lie the original vaults which housed some of the Crown Jewels during World War I.
At the family-owned Gordon’s Wine Bar you can forget the beer; dating back to 1890, it’s thought to be London’s oldest wine bar. Only flickering candles on rickety wooden tables light the labyrinthine brick-walled cellar.
Choose from fortified wines from wooden casks behind the bar – perhaps a sherry or Madeira – or from a lengthy wine list chalked up on the blackboard, ranging from South American labels to biodynamic Merlots and chilled port. There’s literary connection here also: Samuel Pepys lived in the building in the 1680s, and in the room above, Rudyard Kipling wrote The Light That Failed, published in 1890.