The Tom Cribb

36 Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus

 

The hook

It’s always a delight to come across a traditional boozer in a sophisticated part of London where trendy bars have become the norm. The Tom Cribb occupies the archetypal corner plot and its gleaming wooden panels, hanging baskets and intricate ironwork make it a shining beacon in a relatively drab street.

 

The history

EST: Early 19th century. Monarch: George IVLittle is known about the past landlords of most of our historical pubs. Sadly, it is not the practice to display a plaque listing their names as it often is in church. However, we do know the name of the Tom Cribb’s most famous publican. It was Tom Cribb.

During Regency days when fashionable dandies were mincing around Vauxhall Gardens paying court to elegant ladies, a rather more sinister fashion was emerging in London. Men had begun to regularly beat each other to a pulp for the sake of entertainment. No doubt many of these bare-knuckle fights ended in tragedy – but not for Thomas Cribb.

Born in the West Country in 1781, Tom came to London aged 13 and took up boxing in 1805 after spells as a bell hanger and a coal porter. He suffered only one defeat in his lifetime – to George Nicholls on July 20, 1805 – and five years later he became world champion after beating US slave Tom Molineaux. He then semi-retired and was soon running the Union Arms at the corner of Panton Street. When the Prince Regent was crowned King George IV In 1821, Cribb was one of the prize fighters –an early form of security force – who guarded the entrance to Westminster Hall.

Cribb died in 1848 and the pub remained the Union Arms until 1960 when it was renamed in his honour.

 

The ambiance

Unsurprisingly, the walls of the Tom Cribb are lined with boxing pictures and other memorabilia. However, the theme doesn’t dominate the pub. In fact I confess, during my many visits there I never even clocked the boxing connection. To me this was simply a lovely little pre-Comedy Story pub where there is usually a tiny space available for a chilled drink in a quietly buzzing atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

All your basic pub grub is available here along with a selection of real ales. The Tom Cribb is in the heart of Theatreland and works equally well for a quick drink either before or after the evening’s main event.

http://www.tomcribblondon.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Nag’s Head

53 Kinnerton St, Belgravia, SW1X 8ED

Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge

 

The Hook

I find Belgravia with its vast squares, gated gardens and towering stone residences somewhat forbidding. So what a pleasant surprise it was to come across the Nag’s Head down a quiet little mews. It was like entering an unfriendly building and running into an old friend.

 

The History

EST: Early 19th century. Monarch: George IV

Just like the Guinea Grill, the Nag’s Head was once a boozer for the stable hands and footmen who worked at the posh houses nearby. It was apparently built in the early 1800s when the Georgian era was drawing to a close and the huge houses of Belgravia were springing up. The pub enjoyed a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s when landlord Len Cole took up the reins. Something of a character, he and his wife were apparently permanently inebriated and a great source of entertainment for the rather motley clientele. Apparently Len would sometimes turn away his more well-to-do customers if he felt they might prove a soft touch for his dodgier regulars. Bearing in mind that the Great Train Robbery was being planned at the nearby Star Tavern around this time it seems clear that there were plenty of ne’er-do-wells – more than one pub-full, in fact – living in the area.

 

The ambiance

You will either love the Nag’s Head or you’ll hate it. This highly eccentric boozer has a quirky landlord who will throw you out if you use your phone in his pub, and who may also berate you for hanging your coat on the back of your chair rather than on a coat hook. But it is also a charming space crammed with a clutter of portraits, pewter mugs, bric-a-brac, military memorabilia and even some old penny-arcade amusements including a “What the butler saw“ machine. One wonders where they find the space: the Nag’s Head is said to be London’s smallest pub (though who’s measuring? Also, see The Dove). But the bar itself is certainly unusually low and miniature bar stools have therefore been provided to prevent you from towering above it when you sit.

 

The other stuff

The Nag’s Head is a free house that serves Adnams ales and fairly basic pub food. We had perfectly palatable sandwiches but other users have reported receiving a torrent of abuse for requesting chips. Not sure why – just another ot the landlord’s quirks perhaps.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Guinea Grill

30 Bruton Place, W1J 6NL

Nearest tube: Bond Street

 

A convivial atmosphere is to be had in this pleasant pub in a quiet Mayfair backwater

The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

 

The Hook

You can almost see the tumbleweed blowing down Bruton Place as you approach this quiet backwater from the hubbub of nearby Bond Street. The Guinea Grill is a cosy-looking pub and if you are a history buff, the Est 1675 sign outside will doubtless tempt you in.

 

The History

EST: 1675. Monarch: Charles II

Despite the aforesaid Est 1675 sign, the current building dates back to the 1720s and a pub has stood on this site since 1423. Confused? It’s hard to imagine today but Mayfair in the 15th century mainly consisted of farmland and open fields and most of the clientele of the original pub –the Pound – were made up of farm labourers and agricultural workers.

London’s wealthy began moving to Mayfair after the Great Fire of 1666 and soon the pub was filled with stable lads and servants in place of the farm labourers. These new customers worked at the big houses that had started springing up in the surrounding streets and squares. Much of this area was acquired by the First Lord Berkeley of Stratton – a commander in the Civil War – who received the lands when Charles II was restored to the throne. Bruton Place was the site of the stables and coach houses for the grand houses in Berkeley Square and Bruton Street.

 

The ambiance

A charming pub with wooden screens and panelling, the Guinea Grill is decorated in warm colours and there are many old paintings and prints on display. In the summer the customers spill out onto Bruton Place and create a convivial atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

The Guinea has been a Young’s pub since 1888 and serves three regular Young’s ales plus an ever-changing guest ale. The bar specialises in award-winning steak and kidney pies – just like the Windmill around the corner – and the restaurant prides itself on its excellent steaks and British staples such as Devonshire crab, rock oysters and Beef Wellington.

http://www.theguinea.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Old Red Lion

72 High Holborn WC1V 6LS

Nearest tube: Holborn

 

The hook

A pleasant-looking Victorian pub on a busy London corner. In other words: nothing to write home about – until you spot the understated plaque outside the front door.

IMG_6164The history

EST: 16th century. Monarch: Henry VIII. Probably.

One of the most significant episodes in British history was when we decided to decapitate the king – the KING, mind you – and entrust our lives to Oliver Cromwell instead. After his death in 1658 Cromwell lay in state, king-like (hypocrite) before his burial at Westminster Abbey.

According to the plaque outside the Old Red Lion, Cromwell’s body was kept in the cellars of the pub for a few days after his death in 1658. This is just as likely as if a cortege carrying our current head of state’s coffin were to park outside a pub while the undertakers stopped off for a pint. However, it seems that the story may be true – only the dates are wrong.

Oliver Cromwell’s little detour to the Old Red Lion probably occurred in 1661 after Charles II had been restored to the throne. He decided to have Cromwell’s corpse exhumed, hanged and decapitated (as you do). So the Protector’s body was removed from Westminster Abbey along with that of his regicide son-in-law. But on their way to Tyburn the little group of couriers and corpses stopped off at The Old Red Lion either for a few drinks, an overnight rest or to await the arrival of a third regicide’s body. Some even say that Cromwell was eventually buried beneath or near the Old Red Lion. So one way or another, history definitely happened at this pub.

 

The ambiance

The shallow corner plot of this friendly pub creates an L-shaped bar where there’s no room for tables. Consequently everyone stands up or perches on bar stools which makes for a pleasantly buzzing atmosphere.

 

The other stuff

A Greene King pub, the Old Red Lion offers bar meals plus a plentiful beer selection. Upstairs there’s an atmospheric Cromwell Room but sadly, the cellars where his body (probably)IMG_6165 lay have not yet been opened up for Hallowe’en parties and history talks. They’ve definitely missed a trick there.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Anchor

IN MY TOP TEN

34, Park Street SE1 9EF

EST: 1770s (in this incarnation). Monarch: George III

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pub/anchor-bankside-southwark/p0977/

Nearest Tube: London Bridge

 

The hook

The Anchor has a prominent position on Bankside as you emerge from Borough Market via Clink Street. Its attractive outside seating area is the focal point and when you pass by on a summer’s day you will find yourself yearning to join the riverside throng.

The history

Where do I start? The current Anchor pub was built between 1770-75 on the site of an earlier inn named the Castell on the Hoop, which dates back a cool 800 years. Bustling Bankside would have been unrecognisable then: the narrow mediaeval street was lined with wharves and warehouses while the air was filled with the stench of fish and the unsettling sounds of bear-baiting arenas and brothels. Inhabitants of the latter were known locally as “Winchester Geese” because the Bishop of Winchester owned the brothels and claimed the tax revenues. Nice. A few centuries later this area was the heart of Elizabethan theatreland and Shakespeare may have been a local since this was his stamping ground. The Anchor was a haunt of river pirates and smugglers during its colourful history: when repairs were carried out in the 19th century a wealth of ingenious hiding places for stolen goods and contraband were discovered. This pub has also burnt down (twice) and rebuilt (twice). Other claims to fame are that diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of London from the comfort of this pub in 1666, and that dictionary supremo Dr Samuel Johnson used to pop in for a pint when he wasn’t engaged on thinking up new words. Sometimes: “ale” and “pipe” are the only words you need.

The ambiance

The main bar is a large oak-beamed space broken up into pleasant nooks and cubby holes. But if you can’t find a seat, keep going: there’s a warren of dark rooms spread out over several levels and you will doubtless find an ambiance to suit your mood among the comfortable lounges, bars, mezzanines and galleries.

The other stuff

The Anchor is a Greene King pub offering a range of cask and bottled beers plus wines and cocktails. Food choices include Sunday roasts, pies and burgers and there’s an area set aside for fish and chips. But in summer, the terrace is the place to be where you can order Pimms by the jug and watch the world go by overlooking the Thames.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Windmill

IN MY TOP TEN

6-8 Mill St, London W1S 2AZ

EST: 19th century. Monarch: Victoria

windmillmayfair.co.uk

Nearest Tubes: Oxford Circus, Bond Street

 

A lovely place to enjoy a gin cocktail and while away a summer's evening.

The terrace at the Windmill, Mayfair

The Hook:

It has to be said, the Windmill is nothing special to look at from the outside. And far from being tucked away in a cosy cobbled alley like my other favourite pubs it is situated in a rather dreary Mayfair street. But read on: inside there are untold delights.

The history

Again, the relatively modern Windmill strikes a discordant note in a blog that is mainly about cosy, historic pubs. This part of Mayfair was built in the early 18th century and only a few of the original buildings remain – and sadly, the Windmill isn’t one of them. However there was possibly an inn on the site before The Windmill and if so, we can perhaps imagine the likes of Shelley, George Eliot and Benjamin Disraeli popping in for a pint before their weddings – all of which took place at the St George Hanover Square church just a few doors down and built in 1711.

The ambiance

Dark green panelling, blue ceramic tiles, mirrors and chandeliers create a setting that gives a nod to Victoriana. The interior of The Windmill is pleasant enough but it is the delightful “secret roof terrace” that makes this pub so blog-worthy. Nestled high among the fire escapes and red brick walls of the surrounding buildings is an enchanting space where groups of friends huddle around wooden tables decorated with jugs of herbs.  On selected summer evenings the terrace is turned into a garden where magical summer picnics are held. For around 30 quid a head you can dine out alfresco on delicacies such as crayfish, asparagus, wild strawberries and Scotch quail’s eggs washed down with Sipsmith gin cocktails.

IMG_6202

The other stuff

There are plenty of cask ales to choose from at this Young’s pub along with a range of guest ales that change daily. The Sipsmith connection (the distillery is just around the corner) means you can sample delectable gin cocktails including watermelon and mint or raspberry and basil. And then there are the pies. The Windmill”s three-times-national-champion steak and kidney pies feature an incredible 18 ingredients including Worcester sauce, mushroom ketchup and of course, Young’s bitter. What a find.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.

The Seven Stars

53 Carey St, WC2

EST: 1602. Monarch: Elizabeth I

http://www.thesevenstars1602.co.uk

Nearest tubes: Chancery Lane/Holborn

 

The hook

Well if the black-timbered frontage, the overflowing hanging baskets and the window display of dummies’ heads wearing barristers’ wigs don’t tempt you in, I don’t know what will.

 

Eccentric legal eagle hangout with a 400-year history

The Seven Stars, Holborn

The history

Considering the Seven Stars is one of the few London pubs to have escaped the 1666 Fire of London, very little is known about its history. The building dates back to 1602 when Elizabeth I was on the throne and Shakespeare was adding the final touches to Troilius and Cressida. But all we know about the pub’s early days is that it was probably the haunt of Dutch settlers who favoured this area at the time (pubs were named the “Seven Stars” to attract the custom of people from the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands). Sandwiched between Lincoln’s Inn, Temple Bar and the Royal Courts of Justice the Seven Stars has now become a legal haunt. Who knows what lurid cases have echoed around its four walls – particularly from the days when a guilty verdict tended to end in a rather grisly death.

 

The ambiance

The interior is eccentric to say the least: traditional pub seating is teamed with little bistro-style tables covered with 1950s-style gingham plastic. One ante-room is a former wig shop where some of the erstwhile wares are on display. The ceiling is festooned with dried hops that have seen better days and the steep, narrow stairs to the loo would inspire much hilarity on the part of any modern day building regs inspector. The usual wood panelling is peppered with ceramic displays, customer photographs and film posters featuring anything to do with the law (John Cleese wigged and gowned in A Fish Called Wanda; a similarly bewigged James Robertson Justice in A Pair of Briefs). During my visit there was a team of suited legal figures – presumably from the nearby Inns of Court –  holding a briefing meeting over large glasses of Chardonnay (at 2.30pm, too. Impressive). I also spotted one or two tradespeople and a couple of tourists so no-one need feel out of place in this rather bizarre boozer. It’s a small, friendly space that doesn’t take itself too seriously despite its relatively posh clientele.

 

Film posters and dried hops - an unlikely pairing

The interior of the Seven Stars

The other stuff

The Seven Stars serves a good range of cask beers and hearty, home-cooked fare. All dishes are advertised on a chalkboard and include the likes of stews, casseroles, pies, cheeseboards etc. Prices are reasonable and the reviews are pretty good.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.