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Great London Pubs – Museum Tavern in Bloomsbury

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Museum Tavern

Location – 49 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3BA

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The origins of the pub go back to 1723 when it opened as the Dock and Duck reflecting the more country pastimes of the area. However when the British Museum was built in the 1760s, the owners decided to change the name to the British Museum Tavern in 1762 and in 1858 after a refit it became the Museum Tavern.
The refit was overseen by architect William Finch Hill who was best known for his designs for Music Halls, much of his design still remains.

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It’s position at the entrance to the British Museum means it has for centuries been a favourite port of call for the many visitors, academics and workers in the area.
When the British Library was inside of the British Museum it attracted the great minds and thinkers, a regular user was Karl Marx and it has been said that the Museum Tavern was his ‘local’ whilst he was rewriting history.
Other famous visitors to the Tavern have included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and  J. B. Priestley.
There is no doubt even up to the present day a wide range of people have frequented the Museum Tavern which is part of its charm, it is a traditional London pub owned by Taylor Walker Brewery with real ales on tap and traditional food being served.

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Great London Pubs – The Prospect of Whitby

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The Prospect of Whitby

Location – 57 Wapping Wall, Wapping, London, E1W 3SH

The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping is one of the most famous pubs in London, its origins was a simple tavern on the site in 1520.
However it was in the 17th century that it became known as a meeting place for smugglers and river pirates, it was at this time known as the ‘Devil’s Tavern’. It is also claimed that patrons watched the hanging of pirates at the nearby Execution Dock from its balcony.
In recognition of this claim there now stands a noose and gallows outside the back of the pub overlooking the Thames.

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In the 18th Century the Devil’s Tavern burnt down and the tavern was rebuilt and renamed the ‘Prospect of Whitby’ after a ship that was moored nearby.

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In the 19th century it became a place where artists used for a vantage point for their paintings of the Thames, Whistler and Turner amongst others painted many pictures of Wapping.
Famous customers have included Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens, however in the 20th Century it became the pub of choice for many celebrities and famous people.
In the 1950s Princess Margaret was a regular visitor and the pub became a regular stop on the tourist trail.

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It is still very popular and caters for a wide range of clientele, perhaps not the old river workers or seaman who once plied their trade on the river outside but a nice variety of visitors.

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Although the pub building is mostly 18th century, its original flagstone floor, wooden barrels, pewter bar, odd shaped alcoves and large terrace with great views of the river are very atmospheric of days of smugglers and pirates.

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The pub is owned by the Taylor Walker who offer a wide range of real ales and serve mostly standard British fare such as Fish and Chips.

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Great London Pubs – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

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Ye Old Cheshire Cheese

Location – 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU

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Just off Fleet Street.

If there was a competition for the most famous pub in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese would be one of the prime candidates. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it has become associated with most of the great literary figures of London. Its greatest association is with Doctor Johnson who lived in nearby Gough square, but it also been frequented by Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton amongst others.

It was the location of the Rhymers Club in the 1890s which included Yeats and Oscar Wilde amongst its members.

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In 1907, a visiting Mark Twain was appalled at his fellow Americans flocking to the pub as a shrine to Dr Johnson.As he sat in the Doctor Johnson room at the Cheshire Cheese he remarked.

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“Look at those fools going to pieces over old Doc Johnson call themselves Americans and lick-spittle the toady who grabbed a pension from the German King of England that hated Americans, tried to flog us into obedience and called George Washington traitor and scoundrel.”

His friend Bram Stoker of Dracula fame gently mocked the American by saying “Read Johnson plentifully, I suppose,” knowing that he had never read any of his works.

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The pub’s fame has seen it regularly visited by a wide number of famous people of the decades, and is a tourist attraction in its own right.

In the 1920s one of its most famous patrons a grey parrot called Polly died, this event was reported in hundreds of newspapers of the time. Polly’s fame was such that the bird was stuffed and put on display at the pub.

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More recently the pub is the location for the American children’s book The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright and Barry Moser.

A more adult themed history was revealed in the 1960s when a number of sexually explicit tiles were found in an upstairs room, dating from the mid- eighteenth century it suggests that the room may have been used as a brothel. The tiles were donated to the Museum of London.

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The pub looks uninspiring from the outside but is a maze of small rooms and alcoves whose dark wooden panelling and smoky atmosphere from open fires transport you back in time. It was also made for visitors of a smaller stature, so beware banging heads on low beams on stairs and doors if you are above average height. If the pub is old, it has been suggested that some of the vaults underneath the pub are part of 13th-century Carmelite monastery.

Famous for being a Chop House over the centuries, food is still served and the Beer is relatively cheap by London standards brewed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.

Great London Pubs – The Old Bank of England

The Old Bank of England

The Old Bank of England

Location – 194 Fleet St, London EC4A 2LT

The Old Bank of England only became a pub in 1994 but is on the site of two old Taverns, the Haunch of Venison and the more famous Cock Tavern. The present building was built in the late 19th century as part of the Law Courts complex, it was the premises of Law Courts branch of the Bank of England. It traded as a branch the Bank of England until 1975 when it was taken over by a Building Society.

In the 1990s the Fuller’s Brewery took over the building and set about restoring it into one of their flagship pubs.

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Although its history is interesting, this is not this pubs main selling point, the interior is stunning and provides a airy spacious space around a central wooden mahogany bar. The massive chandeliers add to the natural light through the large windows to illuminate the rich decor and ornamental ceiling.

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There is a gallery where you can drink or eat overlooking the bar. There is a good selection of beers on tap and the perhaps better than average pub food available.

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The pub mentions the disputed claims that it lies Sweeney Todd Barbers shop and Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop, although this might add a bit of local colour it does not encourage you to try the pies on the menu!

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Great London Pubs – Ye Olde Mitre (Holborn)

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Ye Old Mitre (Holborn)

Location – 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ

One of the best kept secrets of London is the unusual cul-de-sac of Ely Place, on this street is the former residences of the Bishops of Ely and Queen Elizabeth the First favourite Sir Christopher Hatton.

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The alley entrance to the pub

Just off Ely place is an historic pub called the Ye Old Mitre.There was a pub on this site since 1546 but was remodelled in the 1780s.

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It could be argued the pub has a place in history due to the preserved tree trunk in the corner of the bar that marked it  the boundary of Hatton Garden and the Diocese of Ely. Around this tree Queen Elizabeth is said to have danced with Sir Christopher Hatton. There is an argument that the Ely Place and the pub are not part of London at all but owned by the Diocese of Ely and therefore still part of Cambridgeshire. Allegedly the London Metropolitan Police have to get permission to enter Ely Place which has it own officer (Beadle) watching for wrongdoers.

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Walking down the alley to the pub seems like you are walking back in time and the pub surrounded by high walls gives it a preserved in time effect, the skulls in the window add to the slightly strange atmosphere.

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Once inside, the pub does not disappoint, old pictures, bottles on the walls and mugs on the ceilings and the old furniture gives the impression of a place seeping in history. The bars are small and intimate and lend themselves to conversation with the staff and fellow drinkers.

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Upstairs is a small room with old furniture called the Bishop’s room acknowledging its connection with residences nearby. Real ales are on tap and bar snacks are available. Like many interesting City pubs, Ye Old Mitre is closed at weekends, however this is certainly on pub to go out of your way to discover.

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Film buffs may recognise the pub by its appearance in Snatch and the Deep Blue Sea.

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Great London Pubs – The Blackfriar

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Blackfriar Pub

Location -174 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4EG

It may be  in an uninspiring spot near Blackfriars Bridge but this is without doubt one of the hidden gems of a pub in London.

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Built on the site of a Dominican friary, the original building from 1875 was remodelled between 1903-1925 to create an Art Nouveau masterpiece.

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The various sculptors and designers went to town with the Blackfriars theme with jolly friars popping up everywhere in the pub both on the exterior and inside. Architect H Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole are considered the major influences on the Grade II listed pub that was saved from demolition by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman.

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It does get quite busy at lunchtimes and early evenings but it is worth spending some time to look at the numerous friezes and mosaics all around the pub. It has built a reputation for quality beers and serves mainly English food especially pies.

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Great London Pubs – Lamb and Flag , Covent Garden

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Lamb and Flag – Covent Garden

Location – 33 Rose St, London WC2E 9EB

The Lamb and Flag tucked away in a backstreet of Covent Garden is a reminder of the areas past reputation as a centre of vice and criminal activities.

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There was a time when the pub was known as the Bucket of Blood because bare fisted fights were held in one of the backrooms. In the alley at the side in 1679, John Dryden the poet was beaten up by a group of men said to be in the pay of the notorious Earl of Rochester who had taken exception to one of Dryden’s pieces of work.
Like many pubs in London,there is claims that Charles Dickens frequented the pub in the 19th century.

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The has been licensed premises on the site since 1623 but the present building has a 19th century front fixed onto a 17th century core.

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The pub had a nice well-worn wooden interior and the low beams only add to the attractive character.
The only drawback to the pub is its popularity, it can get very busy sometimes in the week and often in the summer drinkers stand outside.
Another problem can be finding the pub tucked up a small passageway in the winding streets of Covent Garden, the easiest way to find it is from Garrick Street.

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Garrick Street entrance between Carluccios and Com Viet