37 Whitehall, SW1A 2BX
Nearest tube: Charing Cross 0.2 miles
Nearest attraction: National Gallery 0.2 miles
The Old Shades is one of those narrow, elegant pubs you will find all over London wedged between newsagents’ and souvenir shops. Pass by with your eyes at street level and it will barely register. But look up and you will be stunned by the fabulous exterior with its mullioned windows, gothic styling and ornate curlicues. Whatever any of that means.
EST: 1898. Monarch: Victoria
I’ve been trying and failing to discover any historical context for this relatively new pub. Besides the fact that it was built between the two Boer Wars it seems to have enjoyed a fairly dull existence. But then it occurred to me that the ground on which the pub was built was once bang in the middle of the largest palace in Europe – one that eclipsed even the Vatican in terms of size and opulence. And shedloads of history happened here.
The Palace of Whitehall was built in the 1530s in vast grounds backing on to the Thames. It boasted more than 1,500 rooms and extended from Trafalgar Square to the north to beyond Downing Street to the south.
Henry VIII added a cockpit and a bear-baiting arena and made the palace his home. It was here where he married the ill-fated Anne Boleyn on January 25 1533. And it was also where he married Jane Seymour 11 days after poor Anne’s execution. Nice to leave a seemly gap between spouses.
More than 70 years later James I improved the palace by adding a Banqueting House. Ironically it was outside this very building that his son was beheaded on January 30 1649. The Banqueting House still stands and much praying and wreath-laying takes place each year on the anniversary of Charles I’s death.
Sadly, this is all that remains of the Palace of Whitehall on account of an almighty gaffe by an anonymous Dutch laundrywoman. Apparently she left some clothes out to dry in front of an open fire. It must seemed have like a good idea at the time, but they caught alight and the entire palace was burnt to the ground on January 5 1698.
Although it appears tiny from the outside, the Old Shades has a deep exterior with an attractive Victorian bar running along its length. Behind there is a cosy back room with wood-panelled walls and plenty of booths. All very pubby and welcoming.
The other stuff:
Brewery: Free house
Open: Every day
Food: Every day from midday
Unusual beer offerings include Mad Goose, Damson Porter and Old Rosie. The menu is classic British with your usual sausages, pies etc plus other home-grown specialities such as Whitby Bay prawns and Eton Mess.