The Fitzroy Tavern

London's Fitzroy Tavern

London’s Fitzroy Tavern

16 Charlotte St, W1T 2LY

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road, 0.3 mile

Nearest attraction: Oxford Street 0.7 miles

The hook

The Fitzroy’s prominent corner position, attractive stonework and glorious Victorian mosaics will probably be enough to tempt you in. But “in” is not such a straightforward concept in this particular pub.


The history

EST 1887. Monarch: Victoria

It was during the rather frenetic era between the two world wars that The Fitzroy Tavern came into its own. After being taken over by Russian tailor Judah Morris Kleinfeld in 1919 the pub inherited a rather rackety crowd from the Café Royal who gravitated to Fitzrovia to follow their bohemian lifestyle.

This eclectic mix of drinkers included George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Alesteir Crowley – the notorious Satanist and self-proclaimed prophet who hailed from Leamington Spa. Another Fitzroy regular was a dancer and model called Betty May who liked to be known as “Tiger Woman” and whose party piece was to lap champagne out of a saucer from the floor. You couldn’t make it up.

All this made the Fitzroy Tavern the perfect setting for the “roistering, drunken, doomed poet” that was Dylan Thomas (see the Wheatsheaf and the French House). The Fitzroy was another of Thomas’ haunts and it was here where he would pen verses on the back of beer mats and hand them out to attractive lady customers.

In 1936 Thomas met Caitlin Macnamara – by all accounts a fellow roisterer – in the Wheatsheaf around the corner and the pair married on July 11 the following year. The poet then spent the rest of his short life alternating between Wales and London, more often than not in a pub.

Between drinking sessions he wrote plays, poems and scripts for the BBC. His best-known play was Under Milk Wood – a manuscript that took years to complete and predictably, was temporarily lost in a pub. Other stories about the maverick genius include an occasion when Thomas fell asleep during a public poetry reading and another when he stopped dead in the middle of a live radio broadcast to announce: “Somebody’s boring me. I think it’s me.”

He died on November 9 1953 in New York aged just 39 with pneumonia given as the official cause of death. However, alcohol was strongly implicated.


The ambiance

The pub had the hushed air of a library or waiting room on our early evening visit, partly because the central bar caters for a series of rooms which are all screened off from one another. When staff are occupied looking after punters in other parts of the pub one begins to feel somewhat isolated. But the Fitzroy is dark and cosy with wood panelling and snob screens which give it a proper pub “feel”.

Inside London's Fitzroy Tavern

Inside London’s Fitzroy Tavern

The other stuff

Brewery: Sam Smith’s

Open Every day from 11.30am

Food: Every day from midday

Food choices include sandwiches, scampi, cottage pie and ham and chips – in other words, classic British fare. The rambling Fitzroy Tavern takes the cosy compartmentalised thing to a whole new level: we couldn’t work out which entrance to use since all doors seemingly lead into the same pub. We eventually realised that while the bars have separate entrances they are all connected underground via the toilets. Some of the darkly panelled rooms with their beautiful etched glass screens claim to be saloon bars and others are public bars in time-honoured tradition. But in today’s relatively equal society there seems little point.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast


Princess Louise

208-209 High Holborn, WC1V 7BW

Nearest tube: Holborn 400ft

Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.5 miles


The Hook

The Princess Louise is nothing much to look at from the outside. Okay, the windows may be fancy and there are some ornate carvings on the pillars. But the brown paintwork and rather drab signage hardly beckon you in. Persevere, however – inside the Princess Louise will blow your mind.


The history

EST: 1872. Monarch: Victoria

The existing building dates back to 1872 and the interior was remodelled in the 1890s. A relatively new boozer, in fact. High Holborn itself has a long history: The Knights Templar’s first round church was built here in the 12th century. What I do find interesting from a historical point of view is the name of this pub. Princess Louise was the sixth child of Queen Victoria, an intelligent, artistic girl who was often regarded as the Queen’s most beautiful daughter. Born in 1848 she was a talented artist and sculptor as well as something of a celebrity in her day.

Her many talents earned her the unofficial position as secretary to her mother the Queen between 1866 and 1871, after which her marriage to the future Duke of Argyll put an end to this arrangement. It was about this time that the pub was built, though why it was named after a royal princess in her twenties is not clear. Perhaps it was renamed after her death in 1939? By all accounts, Princess Louise was a bit of a character and frequently the subject of gossip. She enjoyed a smoke, dabbled with nude painting and allegedly had a string of affairs. So in other words, she was definitely someone you would want to have a drink with.

The ambiance

The interior of the Princess Louise is simply amazing. Its Corinthian columns, Victorian tiles, mosaic floors and ornate mirrors are elaborate and over-the-top but also fabulous. The pub features a series of booths partitioned off from each other with cut-glass screens. Each has direct access to the marble-effect bar and provides seating for groups of up to eight. Arrive early if you would like a seat in one of these highly-prized snugs. Stepping inside the Princess Louise is like walking into a Victorian melodrama. Spoiler alert: the butler probably did it.

The other stuff

Brewery: Samuel Smith

Open: Every day, closed Sunday evenings

Food: Served from lunchtime

The Princess Louise’s menu is mostly British but the inevitable steak and kidney pudding and bangers and mash are tempered by more cosmopolitan dishes such as lasagne, chilli and cheesey nachos.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

The Ship and Shovell**

One of my top five pubs

1-3 Craven Passage WC2N 5PH

Nearest tube: Charing Cross 200ft

Nearest attraction: National Gallery, 0.2 miles

IMG_6246The Hook

Why settle for one pub when you can have two? That was obviously the thinking behind the landlords of the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) when they were first established on either side of Craven’s Passage. When you first stumble across one of  London’s very few two-part pubs (see the Euston Tap) you will assume you are seeing double. Then you will start to wonder: are these jolly red inns actually mirror images of each other inside?


The history

EST: 1852. Monarch: Victoria

The two terraced houses that make up the Ship and Shovell were built in in the 1730s when the most southerly one had a clear view of the river via a porthole-like window. This enabled the dockers and carters who frequented the inn to keep an eye on the Thames and watch for ships that might need divesting of their coal and other goods. The buildings were later replaced and the pub was listed as the Ship and Shovel in 1852. It seems the perfect name for a pub whose clientele used to shovel coal from a ship. But in 1997 its name was changed to the Ship and Shovell (with two Ls) after a 17th century sea admiral.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell was born in Norfolk and rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy from cabin boy to Admiral of the Fleet. He battled pirates and foreign seafarers before ending his life in a shipwreck off the Scilly Isles. In other words: he had no tangible connection with Charing Cross whatsoever. Craven Passage itself was named after the first Earl of Craven (also from the 17th century) who gained London’s respect by, well, not being craven. When the Great Plague ravaged the city in 1665 he stayed put and helped to maintain order rather than fleeing to the countryside like so many other noblemen.


The ambiance

To answer your earlier (hypothetical) question, the Ship(s) and Shovell(s) are entirely different inside. The pub on the right as you approach from Villiers Street is a pleasant but unremarkable London boozer with an ornate Victorian décor. However, the pub on the left is much more quaint and characterful. Its handful of seating places include two cosy booths plus an adorable cubby hole partly shielded by screens with its own personal coat hooks. My only gripe was that comfier chairs would have made this “snug” even snugger. The walls of both hostelries are covered with 17th century sailing paintings, mostly linked to the obscure Captain Shovell who provides a touch of swashbuckling glamour that coal-shovelling somehow fails to deliver.


The other stuff

Brewery: Hall and Woodhouse

Open: Every day except Sunday

Food: Midday till 3.30pm (4pm on Sundays)

All your basic pub food options are available but I opted for the chili cheese chips – guaranteed to blow the culinary thrill-seeker’s mind. Besides the chili my chips were also topped with coriander, jalapenos and English mustard. My tastebuds still haven’t recovered – but in a good way.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page. And to see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.