16 Charlotte St, W1T 2LY
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road, 0.3 mile
Nearest attraction: Oxford Street 0.7 miles
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.
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 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”.
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.
Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.
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