74 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4EG
Nearest tube: Blackfriars
When I first spotted the Black Friar from my seat on a hugely enjoyable London Duck Tour I was mesmerised by this lovely, Trivial Pursuit-pie shaped building beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Since I was a captive audience on the tour I was forced to sit tight, squirrel away the info and resolve to visit the pub at a later date. And when I eventually did so I discovered that the Black Friar was even better inside than out.
EST: 1875. Monarch: Victoria
Built in 1875, the pub is fairly modern despite its medieval styling. But the name of the Black Friar refers to its position on the site of a former priory. When friars first appeared in medieval England they were something of a novelty since unlike monks (who were cloistered in monasteries) they travelled around, spreading the word in exchange for money to sustain themselves. Nice work if you can get it. There were two main groups of friars in early 13th century London – the Franciscans who were invariably dressed in grey, and the Dominicans whose long black mantles earned them the name the Black Friars. These were later joined by the Carmelites, or the White Friars (I see a theme emerging) and the Augustinians, otherwise known as the Austin Friars. Maybe there were no more drab colours to adopt?
Anyway, the pub is a Grade II listed Arts and Crafts building which means it has plenty of historical merit despite not actually being old. In the “enlightened” 1960s when iconic buildings were being flattened left right and centre, the Black Friar was among those scheduled to be demolished. However, the poet Sir John Betjeman stepped in and led a campaign to keep it. It just goes to show, you can always count on a creative to vouch for a pub as Dickens, Pepys, Marlowe etc will bear out.
The Black Friar has been skillfully designed inside to reflect its Dominican roots. However the arches, carvings and stained glass windows have been teamed with cosy nooks and low lighting to create an interior that is both impressive and snug. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, mosaics and wooden reliefs featuring black friars beaming down on you with happy, smiling faces. In fact it was the Grey Friars who had a reputation for being particularly jolly, but who knows. Maybe the two rival groups engaged in much friendly joshing as they roamed the streets of London, spreading their respective words.
The other stuff
As a Nicholson’s pub, the Black Friar serves the usual cask beers along with a fairly standard menu featuring pies, burgers and steaks. But the dining room is a revelation with its vaulted-style ceiling that continues the medieval theme.
For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.