The Ultimate London Pub History Advent Calendar Door 16
One of my top ten pubs
18 Bateman Street, W1D 3AJ
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road 0.3 miles
Nearest attraction: Picadilly Circus, 0.4 miles
It’s always nice to find love when you’re not actually looking for it. The same goes for a great pub. My friend and I had just had a drink at the French House and were on our way to the Wheatsheaf when we spotted the Dog and Duck and were captivated by its imposing black pillars, beautiful signage and abundant foliage. Sorry, Wheatsheaf: I’m coming for you, but not just yet.
EST 1734. Monarch: George II
The famous landscape artist John Constable lived around the corner in the early 1800s and would apparently nip into the Dog and Duck for a quick pint between masterpieces. But this pub’s heyday was in the 1940s when it became George Orwell’s favourite drinking den. Mind you, several other pubs make the same claim and the erudite author of 1984 is actually said to have thrown up over the bar in the Wheatsheaf nearby. But whether this indicates any sort of preference is a moot point.
It’s hard to get a handle on the man who wrote such a deeply depressing dystopian novel as 1984. He appears to have been a bit of a reactionary, having travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War even though his poor constitution made him supremely unfit to do so. But he learnt his lesson by being shot in the throat and arm and having to return to England. He joined the Home Guard in World War II and landed a job with the BBC which involved working as a propagandist advancing the country’s national interests. But he loathed this part of the work and resigned in 1943 to take a post on a Socialist newspaper. Obviously a man of integrity but I can’t help imagining him as a bit of a pub bore, banging on about his ideals and ranting at his fellow drinkers while being ineffectually heckled by a sozzled Dylan Thomas in the corner (the two writers frequented the same Soho pubs but whether they ever synchronised their drinking is unclear).
However, the fact that Orwell was a huge fan of pubs elevates him in my estimation. He even wrote an essay for the Evening Standard on his perfect pub, describing a fictional backstreet establishment with good conversation, no music, a Victorian décor and creamy stout on tap. He even gave his fantasy pub a name – The Moon Under Water. I have news for you, George: your idea has been nicked.
But Orwell’s ideal pub sounds less like a Wetherspoon’s and more like the Dog and Duck itself. And there’s further evidence that this pub was his favourite: he chose to celebrate here in August 1945 when Animal Farm was featured by the American Book of the Month Club. Though his pub choice was partly due to the fact that the Dog and Duck’s landlord had managed to get hold of a bottle of absinthe that was 135 per cent proof. Maybe THAT was the night he went on to the Wheatsheaf and threw up over the bar.
The “EST” date is the only Georgian thing about the Dog and Duck. It was rebuilt in 1897 and its interior is all Victorian opulence with its etched mirrors, glazed tiles and more chandeliers than a pub this size deserves. It’s a shiny, magical space with a warm welcome and cosy seating. We went on a Tuesday lunchtime and had to squeeze ourselves in next to a big group of what looked to be retired media men (they were happily supping pints and appeared much too carefree to be gainfully employed).
The other stuff
Open: Every day from 11.30am (midday on Sunday)
Food: Served every day
Upstairs there’s a restaurant-cum-bar named the George Orwell Room (obviously). The usual Nicholson’s menu is on offer but the carrot and honey soup was delicious and the service particularly friendly. I asked for butter with my bread – a practice often sniffed at in posher eateries – and instead of announcing haughtily that they didn’t have any (which they didn’t) they sent the chef out to buy some. Now THAT’S service.
And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.