London's Top 5 Historic Pubs For Literature Lovers
Writers and pubs go hand in hand. Is it the long, solitary hours spent working on manuscript after manuscript, or the keen eye for observation and character-crafting that draws writers in to prop up the bars of pubs down the ages? Either way, these literary figures certainly chose their locals well.
1. The Grapes
Nearest Transport Stop: Limehouse
This old world pub was made most famous as the inspiration for the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. For the first 40 years of his life, Dickens frequented the Grapes whilst visiting his godfather. And today, The Grapes continues to draw on its literary connections - a full collection of Dickens’ novels is kept in the back room ready to accompany several pints!
But The Grapes’ literary connections don’t begin and end with Dickens. Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle both visited The Grapes and sent characters there, capitalising on the ‘shady’ atmosphere of Victorian East London. Limehouse and its dockside pubs were perfectly situated for a bit of Victorian gothic spook. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes sees the detective heading to a Chinese opium den near The Grapes, whilst Oscar Wilde used the upstairs room of The Grapes as inspiration for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Today, you won’t find Holmes and Watson fighting through a den of opium addicts. But you will find a quirky historic pub with sketches of Dickens’ characters and plenty of literary references. Possibly the narrowest pub in London, The Grapes is a grade II listed building, so it’s retained lots of original features like the scrubbed oak beams and floorboards. And of course, you’ll find plenty of real ale!
2. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Nearest Transport Stop: Temple
One of the oldest pubs in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was a favourite spot of P.G. Wodehouse and Mark Twain among many others! Head on over with a notebook at the ready to soak up the atmosphere that inspired great literary minds throughout history. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been a registered public house since 1538, so it follows that you’ll be drinking in good literary company. Perhaps the Great Bard William Shakespeare shared a pint with Christopher Marlowe and exchanged tips on tragedy as they propped up the bar… maybe.
Doubtless, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was frequented by Charles Dickens - a man familiar with many London pubs - and P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse frequented several of London’s prestigious clubs, but reportedly said he preferred to dine alone at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on occasion when he felt the stuffiness of the clubs overwhelming. So if you decide to visit this grade II listed building, make sure you take a good look at the carved ceiling while you enjoy a swift half - you could well be sitting in the precise spot where Wodehouse came up with snobbish butler Jeeves!
3. The George Inn
Nearest Transport Stop: London Bridge
This tavern started pulling pints in the 1540s was a known favourite of Shakespeare’s in its earliest days. It’s highly likely that Shakespeare spent time here developing his craft during ‘the lost years’ and may have met Christopher Marlowe for a round or two at the George Inn. Either way, rest assured that calling in for a drink at this former coaching inn will lead you into great and inspiring literary company.
Now, the George Inn is owned by the National Trust, who proudly maintain the George as the only remaining galleried inn in London. You can enjoy a pint on one of the galleries, overlooking the George Yard. Just a short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, any literature-lovers looking to tread in the Bard’s footsteps should certainly stop by the George Inn!
4. Fitzroy Tavern
Nearest Underground Stop: Tottenham Court Road
At the edge of the Bloomsbury district, famous for its literary connections, the Fitzroy Tavern has its own Writers & Artists bar in the basement. Since it opened in 1887, the Fitzroy has welcomed a rather eclectic mixture of writers from Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas and George Orwell. You can find many of their portraits lining the walls of this Victorian pub.
Prior to reopening as a pub frequented by Bohemian styled artists and writers, the Fitzroy began life as the Fitzroy Coffee House. The atmosphere for artists, writers and other creatives was such that the camaraderie of good fortune fell to them all - if one artist sold a piece of work, much of the money would go behind the bar for them all to enjoy, until they were broke again! Sadly, this practice hasn’t continued, but you will find plenty of artistic spirit and charming period features at this Victorian tavern.
5. The Duke of York
Nearest Underground Stop: Goodge Street
Back in the day, the Duke of York was a hangout for London’s razor gangs, as well as war time writers and artists. An incident in 1943, between Anthony Burgess’ wife and a rampaging razor gang inspired Burgess’ violent scenes in A Clockwork Orange. When Burgess’ wife Lynne stepped in as the gang trashed the pub, they pulled pint after pint and forced her to drink them. When she was able to drink them all, the gang were so impressed, they left the money for the beer they’d wasted!
The Duke of York is also likely to have been a home from home for George Orwell and Dylan Thomas, with whom Anthony Burgess was drinking buddies. Luckily, today you’re unlikely to run into rampaging gangs at the Duke of York. What you will find is a cosy pub with an interesting selection of draught beers.