Where are all the pubs in Chelsea?

30/10/2017 at 14:14 | Posted in Articles, pub reviews | Leave a comment
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There has been an alarming trend over the last 20 years which has left some “wealthy” communities without a local pub.  Not every pub in Chelsea that has been lost gets a mention here but there have been enough recently to be a cause for concern.

The frontage of The Markham Arms – now a bank struggling for business was once a thriving pub on the King’s Road.  It’s one of many pub sites that have claimed in the Chelsea past to have had celebrity drinkers – The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton etc.

Continue Reading Where are all the pubs in Chelsea?…

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City & Spitalfields

18/02/2017 at 12:36 | Posted in pub reviews | 1 Comment
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In February 2017, I took the crawlers on a short walk around the City, starting on its boundary with Spitalfields and ending up in its centre.

We met at the Williams Ale & Cider House, close to Liverpool Street station, which has a beer-led bar at the front and a cider-led bar further back. Service wasn’t great, but we did eventually manage to buy some Signature Roadies, which we took outside to enjoy in the February evening air. The pub is on Artillery Lane, the name betraying its origins as part of  the site of the artillery grounds which used to be found here, just outside the City, until 1682.

Around the corner in Sandy’s Row, where one side of the street is in the City and the other in Spitalfields, we passed the Sandy’s Row Synagogue, the last surviving Spitalfields synagogue. The building was originally built as a church in 1766 by the Huguenot community, and named L’Eglise de l’Artillerie. It later became a baptist chapel, before becoming a synagogue in 1854.

A few steps further on, next to the former Jewish bakery Levy Bros, which was established in 1710 and whose bakers can still be seen toiling away on the building’s exterior, we came to the King’s Stores. This has been modernised recently and has several decent ales on tap, and I had two Signature beers in a row, the cask Pale this time, while some went for the Dark Star Partridge. All were very nice, and we took them outside to enjoy in the attractive street outside.

We kept on following the City boundary along Middlesex Street, so named because the street was the first in Middlesex on leaving the City of London, whose boundary runs along the western kerb. It is better known though as Petticoat Lane, and has been home to a thriving Sunday market since the 17th century.

We took a very slight detour to see the site of the infamous Goulston Street Graffito, before heading into the Bell, a pleasingly traditional pub, with Landlord, Atlantic, TEA and Doom Bar on the bar.

We crossed back into the City on leaving, and came to Houndsditch, which was originally a defensive ditch outside the City walls, but became a popular dumping ground for dead dogs, amongst other refuse. In 1910 it was the scene of the Houndsditch Murders, in which three police officers were shot dead by a Latvian gang, and which subsequently ended a few weeks later in the famous Siege of Sidney Street.

We also crossed over Bevis Marks, home of the eponymous synagogue, which was built by London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community in 1701 and is the only synagogue in Europe to have held services continuously for over 300 years, despite being damaged by bombing in the blitz, and again in 1992 and 1993.

craftbeercoWe passed through Mitre Square, where one of Jack the Ripper’s victims was found, to the Craft Beer Company. As usual for this chain, the pub is excellent, with some interesting ales on draught, keg and in the fridge; we went for Dark Star’s Art of Darkness, a lovely malty black beer, and Kernel’s light table beer. We had nice seats in the window, and watched the extraordinary number of walking groups passing by, drawn by the seemingly insatiable Ripper industry.

We next went just around the corner to the Old Tea Warehouse, but unfortunately all of their ales had finished, so we left without a drink and headed to Old Tom’s, the basement bar of the Lamb in the beautiful Leadenhall Market. This is a cosy space, where we enjoyed some Common Pale Ale from Wimbledon.

standrewgherkinOn the way we passed some of London’s most interesting architecture, where the ancient and modern rub shoulders; churches such as St Katharine Kree (founded 1280, with the present tower dating from 1504) and St Andrew Undershaft (dating from 1147, present building dating from 1532) sit alongside iconic modern towers such as the Gherkin, Leadenhall Building and the Lloyd’s Building.

Next up, we headed to the Counting House, which was built in 1893 as a banking hall, beautifully converted by Fullers, and serving their range of ales; the pub’s foundations rest on the wall of a 2,000 year old Roman basilica, according to the pub’s website.

map.jpgFor the final stop of the evening, we headed to the Arbitrager, a tiny craft beer place serving only beer, cider and spirits from London; we went for the excellent Neckstamper APA, from a new brewery in Leyton, while we admired the beautiful map on one wall, showing the location of London’s breweries overlayed on a mid-19th century map of the capital.

As to the Pub of the Crawl, we have to give it to the final place for breaking the mould with its London-only range and wonderful wall map. Congratulations The Arbitrager!

Mews Pubs of London

15/05/2013 at 23:50 | Posted in Articles, pub reviews | 3 Comments
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IMG_20130519_142834_cropFor some people in London the term mews pub probably means a pub lost down some alleyway but for others less interested in high street corner offerings the London mews is a hidden world where time forgot.

For an explorer like Archie his desire to explore the more hidden pubs of london was no more exemplified than the night we went to the Grenadier. Phil had almost scrabbled his way around via some gardens and, at one point, it looked like we would have to turn back, perhaps with the sounds of a disgruntled neighbour in our ears. But the red sign of the pub under a distant light, glowing in the distance like the star of Bethlehem was a sight to behold (coupled with a few disbelieving “no way”s). 

There are very few “hidden” pubs in central London like this which makes it such a special occurrence to encounter the Grenadier, but the mews pubs of London offer these sunken havens and the potential for sequestered pub.  So is that the Grenadier a mews pub? Actually, no.

Definition of a mews

In the english language a mews is a singular word used originally to describe a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a cobble-stoned yard or court, or along a street, behind large city houses, of which there are many in London, and date back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries. The word now may also refer to the lane, alley or back street onto which such stables used to open. It can also now be applied to rows or groups of garages and not all lead to pubs or houses at all.IMG_20130519_162406

Be careful as there may be a right of way but it doesn’t mean it leads to anything and, of course, some are private. Today most mews stables have been converted into dwellings, some greatly modernised and considered highly desirable residences. Certainly The Horse and Groom and The Star Tavern on Archie’s Belgravia crawl were classic examples of hidden gems and walking down a mews in any neighbourhood has that potential magic – the fact that a lot of them are back yards and, with lots of right angle turns, it’s hard to know like in any maze whether the effort is worthwhile – or time to turn back.

Horse and Groom

The Horse and Groom (7 Groom Place SW1X 7BA) is a small difficult to find pub in a quiet mews in Belgravia with wood panelling dating back to 1864. Aapparently it was not allowed to serve liquor on account of the local employers who would not want their servants falling into ruin. No such problem these days and proudly serving Shepherd Neame and entered in the GBG 2013.

However, if there ever was a definition of a mews pub then The Dover Castle (Weymouth Mews, parallel to Portland Place) is a beautiful example not far from Harley Street, tucked away on another dark cobbled street, perhaps dating back to the 18th century.  dover-castleAgain wood panelling throughout, packed full of original features, a real fire in the winter and some evidence of partitioning.  Altogether a fine example in the Sam Smiths estate, meaning the pricing is unusually low for such a nice pub.  Apparently The Who came here regularly while recording Tommy in 1969, a perfect backstreet hideaway; or probably because it was the nearest to the famous IBC studios.  Many more rock legends could have found the secretive pub to their liking.

The Dover Castle is a classic but the main area for mews these days is South West London, for example the aforementioned Belgravia, a pre-requisite is usually big houses and cobbled streets behind.  Sometimes the pubs are accessed via a connected mews, drowning on how you approach then, best to have a satnav in the other hand.

Yet to feature on one of the crawls is The Queens Arms, on a corner in Queen’s Gate Mews. Here many a thirsty punter has come away from the Royal Albert Hall looking for replenishment and missing this gem.  But for how long this pub escapes the zone 1 pub crawl compendium can’t be certain.  Many of the mews in this rich area have featured in film sets and it’s easy to see why, there’s something romantic about a mews like Queen’s Gate Mews, with its cobblestones and winding wysteria.

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More good mews

Archie favours the Cleveland Arms, featured on the Lancaster Gate crawl and in fact the pub is at the entrance to a mews (Upbrook Mews), so I am calling this pub a “coach inn” later on.  He has spent over 3 years touring the world solo, checking out some of the most fascinating roads less travelled.  From The Silk Route of Central Asia to bagging peaks in Bolivia, he makes a habit of leaving tourists not only behind but they’re already on the air conditioned bus going back to their hotel.  So mews pubs are right up his, er, street!

cleveland-arms-crop

Archie was born in Melbourne where he has spent most his life. It is unusual to come across an Aussie with a vast knowledge of London streets, most of his compatriots in fact do not stay much longer than the standard two year visa. And an evening on the beer in Melbourne is more typically in pubs with less history and character and are more trendy affairs with true locals few and far between. “Nothing like the time we have discovering remarkable new parts of London every month”, commented Archie

“Sometimes you go through an arch to enter the mews, others you need a map to find, and you have to be brave to enter some of them”,  he said.  “But the beauty of seeking out these places it’s that you avoid the tourist places.  The most hidden ones are more hardcore local, secret, hidden, elusive, the ones tourists couldn’t ever see, because they’ll never have the time or inclination”.

The term “mews” can be traced back to 1377 when king’s falconry birds were kept in the King’s Mews at Charing Cross. They later became stables before Trafalgar Square was built on the site. The term became more widely known for stables but only when accompanying large city houses and generally not country estates. So why should pubs be found in effectively stables?

Mews territory

The answer could be signposted by Archie’s second crawl which began near Sloane Square and headed towards the wealthy neighbourhood of Belgravia.  It’s here where mews houses can go for millions of pounds -still a fraction of the adjacent white buildings – and their owners would say that their mews houses are cosy cottages; after all, most have no rear aspect and they make the most of their modest frontage.

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Belgravia is typical of what West London housing for wealthy people would have been like 200 years ago, streets of large terraced houses with stables at the back, which opened onto a small service street. The mews would originally have horse stalls and a carriage house on the ground floor, and stable servants living accommodation above, often mirrored by another row of stables on the opposite side backing onto another row of terraced houses facing outward into the next street. Sometimes there were variations such as small courtyards behind pubs, but these I refer to as coach inns*. Most mews are real streets named after one of the principal streets which they back onto, for example Stanhope Mews West and East adjacent to Stanhope Gardens in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The classic Star Tavern, where allegedly the Great Train Robbery was planned

Take The Star Tavern (6 Belgrave Mews West, Belgravia, London SW1X 8HT); a classic pub with hanging baskets serving Fullers on a cobbled Mews, which can be traced back to 1848 and has appeared in every edition of the GBG. From it’s impressive exterior, which you could imagine has not changed much, you enter an open bar which would have been divided into rooms.  Upstairs allegedly the Great Train Robbery was plotted.  One can see how easy it might have been to be secretive here – if you are looking for it then it’s best to approach from Halkin Street to the North, it’s not easy to get it right first time!

The Star is an example of a community pub in a mews established at a time when mainly servants and farriers would frequent such establishments and one could imagine how unpopular it would have been to the upper echelons of Belgravia society.  Belgrave Mews might well have been the main service street for nearby Belgravia Square and the arched entrance to the street is a compliment to it’s more celebrated surroundings

The fact that very few genuine mews pubs have survived might actually be due to the fact that they simply did not exist in large quantities. South Kensington is rich with backstreets, some leading to pubs, but the pubs are not in the mews itself. This fact is lost on Archie, who loves exploring these streets and would claim he has discovered a news pub after emerging from some zig zagging alley way. Such was the case on the Earls Court crawl.

Noise inversionIMG_20130519_162243

So quiet are some mews that you forget that you are in a busy capital city; the advantage they have is no through traffic and, in the past, the sounds and smells of the stables were away from the main owners when they were not using the horses. It’s hard to imagine what these back streets would have been like back then, really quite the opposite of today.  In some cases it is curious to find facades, purpose built arches and doorways, such must have been the need to keep these alleyways invisible.  The archway at the entrance to Elvaston Mews is so ornate it is Grade II listed. IMG_20130519_133924

They were not so quiet in the past with all the horses coming in and out.  Where nowadays horseless carriages are parked outside the main entrance, you simply couldn’t do that with horses.  Now the large adjacent buildings tend to block out the noise of the traffic.  Of course mews lost their equestrian function in the early 20th century when motor cars were introduced. Stables became garages and, as is widely practiced, the garage becomes an extra room.  And over time, when it became less affordable to own large houses, the mews properties themselves became houses, relatively more affordable and certainly erstwhile fashionable.  Many have their own distinctive style and you can see the hideaway appeal of some private residential mews units.

And so we end our feature on hidden mews pubs in Zone 1.  The Mitre, well hidden of course, is not in this small list as we have been careful with the definition.  Pubs in the areas worthy of a visit if you wanted to experience something similar, feature in a number of crawls already – The Wilton Arms, The Grenadier, The Nags Head.  But the relative tranquility of a London mews is a special local phenomenon, a contrast, a sanctum.

We have also omitted The Duke of York (7 Roger Street, London) often referred to as a mews pub due to its proximity to John’s Mews and Doughty Mews.  Paddington is full of mews like the one below, all mainly residential.  Although there are around 700 “mews” in London if you are lucky enough to come across a mews pub in zone 1 worth an inclusion, you are (with Archie) probably in a very small group.

See also: Have We Got Mews For You

have we got mews for you?

*Note on Coach inn for the purposes of this article – Some examples of pubs with a preserved adjacent courtyard in Soho, if you want to look – The Wheatsheaf, The Black Horse, and The Pillars of Hercules,  These are old coaching inns and not strictly mews in the same way as whole service streets, but no doubt readers will have their own interpretation.

The Dean Swift, SE1

07/08/2011 at 17:51 | Posted in pub reviews | Leave a comment
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I first tried out the Dean Swift, in Shad Thames, about 3 years ago. It was a smallish corner pub, with a young crowd, and I thought the odds on finding a good beer were fairly low, but I was surprised to find some good beers on, including a tasty Landlord. We went back a couple of times and started to really like this pub, so I was slightly disappointed when we tried to go one time and found the place closed and builders moving in.

I was fearful that a decent pub had been lost, but in fact it was not only being refurbished rather than converted to some other use, but being turned into something of a local beer nirvana. It still has four fine ales on handpump, some of very exciting provenance – there was a draft cask IPA from New Zealand last week. But they have also made an effort with both bottles and keg.

Lots of bottled beers are available – perhaps not quite on the same scale as some of the much larger craft beer pubs beginning to pop up around London, but they do have some great ones including from Bermondsey’s own Kernel brewery.

And the keg offer is pretty fine too. We’re not talking John Smiths extra smooth here but craft brews from around the world. Last week there was an IPA Day and Stone IPA, all the way from San Diego, California, sat alongside the Black IPA from Kernel, just 500 metres from the pub, along with several other interesting brews and the house pilsner. Their Twitter feed has updates of the latest beers on offer.

So if you’re in the Shad Thames area, near the southern end of Tower Bridge, you could certainly do worse than drop by the Dean Swift for a swift pint (or three).

The Mayflower, SE16

01/08/2011 at 18:03 | Posted in pub reviews | 1 Comment
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My local pub is the Mayflower in Rotherhithe Street, SE16.

It’s well worth a visit, especially since new management arrived in the summer of 2011 and introduced rather more interesting beers than the previous landlord; it’s located in Rotherhithe Village, opposite the Brunel Museum and a stone’s throw from Rotherhithe station, and is on the banks of the Thames. In decent weather you can sit on the jetty over the Thames, and on poorer days you can sit inside and admire the old-fashioned interior, with some of the wood panelling being very old, although much of it was installed in a post-war rebuild.

It is called the Mayflower because it was from here that the famous ship departed for Plymouth, where it picked up the Pilgrim Fathers for transit to the new colony in America. (The ship’s captain is buried in the churchyard opposite.)

It wasn’t always called the Mayflower though; it was originally the Ship, along with several others in the area, and then became the Spread Eagle & Crown. It was in this guise that Pathé visited in 1949 to film a short piece on the pub, which is online for posterity here. Fortunately, the development discussed in the film never came to pass.

New pub review: the Euston Tap

18/06/2011 at 14:57 | Posted in pub reviews | Leave a comment
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Close to the long-standing and excellent Bree Louise (which is also highly recommended), the Euston Tap opened in 2011 in one of the listed gatehouses of Euston station, one of the very last remnants of the old station which was shamefully demolished in the 1960s.

So what about the pub? Well it is pretty small, as you can imagine, but not quite as small as you might expect, with an upstairs room inside and a seating area outside, fortunately on the other side of the building from the busy Euston Road.

The beer selection is outstanding. It is the only pub I know of in London with a huge American craft pub-style tap wall, serving 20 keg beers. Don’t let the keg reference put you off though, as they are all craft beers of great diversity. But there are also eight real ales on at any time, despite the lack of handpumps visible on the bar; they are served by taps at the bottom of the main bar.
The beer range doesn’t stop there though, as either side of the bar are large drudges containing an array of bottled beers from all over the world, including small local London brewers.

All in all, highly recommended.

To see what’s going on at the pub and what beers are on, you can check their Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/#!/eustontap
For more reviews of new pubs, see my New Pubs page

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