One of my top five pubs
23 Crown Passage, Off Pall Mall, SW1Y 6PP
Nearest tube, Green Park
Situated in a tiny alleyway off Pall Mall, the centuries-old Red Lion beckons you in with its black timbers and leaded light windows. But it’s the cosy interior and warm welcome that encourage you to stay.
EST: 17th century (probably) Monarch: James I (possibly)
This pub is said to hold the second oldest licence in London and date back around 400 years. So which pub holds the oldest? No-one seems to know. In any case, this is definitely an old pub and apparently a firm favourite with royalty through the years. Regal visitors have allegedly included everyone from Edward VIII to the Queen Mother and Charles II to Henry VIII (who presumably time-travelled since he died in 1547). And the Red Lion is more or less a monarchs’ local since it situated just across the road from St James’ Palace and Clarence House.
It is also rumoured to have been the location for lovers’ trysts between – you guessed it – Charles II and Nell Gwyn (see The Dove and the Nell Gwynne). The famous orange-seller lived just around the corner at 79 Pall Mall and Charles lived at St James’ Palace, which in fact became the main residence of the monarchy after Whitehall Palace was burned down by a hapless laundrywoman (see The Old Shades). Legend has it that naughty Nell would sneak along Crown Passage and into the Red Lion’s cellars where she would meet Charles in a tunnel beneath the pub. A lovely romantic story but a) sceptics have had a poke around the cellars and have found no trace of a tunnel and b) Charles and Nell were at it so blatantly everywhere else that why would they need to go sneaking around in cellars?
On the last Saturday in January “cavaliers” in full costume descend on the Red Lion to lament the death of their hero Charles I who was executed on January 30 1649. Only in England.
The Red Lion is yet another of those tiny, dimly-lit historical icons that barely register with tourists despite being a mere stone’s throw away from the city’s major historical sites. Dogs are welcome – so maybe a corgi or two has been snuck in over the years?
Being a small, square space the Red Lion is a little short on nooks and crannies, but the inviting atmosphere more than makes up for this.
The other stuff
Brewery: Free house
Open: every day except Sundays
Food: Mainly bar snacks