london pubs

Drinking on London Underground

Sloane Square tube station by Oxyman.
Sloane Square. We think that snack shop in the middle is where The Hole in the Wall ‘pub’ used to be.

Despite Boak being a Londoner, despite having lived and worked there for years, and despite our compulsive acquisition of books about the capital, we’d somehow never come across this nugget before:

Not everyone realises there are some excellent drinking places on the London Tube known as buffet bars, which have all the advantages of a small well-run pub. Most of them are kept single-handed by capable and friendly middle-aged manageresses, who may have been there anything up to some twenty or more years… These buffet bars are ideal spots to sit back and enjoy a quiet drink in pleasant company and surroundings, and let the commuter hoard rush by.

That’s from The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs (1973 edn.) by Martin Green and Tony White, which has a special appendix listing all of London Underground’s licensed establishments.

Most seem to have been near the ticket barriers, where these days you would find newsagents, sandwich shops and sushi bars, but a handful were actually on platforms, like the ‘Hole in the Wall’ on the westbound platform at Sloane Square: ‘If you’re not in transit, it can be reached by the purchase of a 2p platform ticket, unless you can some to some arrangement with the ticket-collector.’

According to a 1949 article in The Times, ‘the Hole’ was an original feature installed when the station was built in 1868, and seems to have closed in 1985. How did these die out? Was there a concerted effort by Transport for London to do so? Or did they go with Truman’s who seem to have owned most of them?

Image by Oxyman, licensed under Creative Commons.

UPDATE: There’s now a quite comprehensive piece on these pubs by Ian Mansfield at Ian Visits.

10 replies on “Drinking on London Underground”

I drank there a few times in the late 1960s.
It was when I was working Earls Court/Kensington area.
The bar was located at the foot of the staircase.

In those days we always ordered “a quick half”. Goodness knows what beer it was. Pos Ordinary. And it was always served in a half pint dimple jug. I can taste it now. Yummy.
Must go. Here’s the train>>>>>>>>>

Don’t know exactly when this all died out well before I moved to London in 95 but it is illegal to drink alcohol on the underground these days, has been since 2008.

Any chance that the closures were part of the Thatcher era, err, rationalizations. I was physically in the underground just before the Kings Cross fire and was on the wooden escalator that apparently started it all about 15 minutes before. A pal joining us at the pub actually was in a train that went through flames. Very soon after there were stories that many services had in recent months been cut including cleaners who had kept the wooden escalator free of clutter and dust. If this was part of a greater scheme to streamline and focus services, could that have also seen the end of the pubs and their comforts?

An old friend of mine, now sadly deceased, told me that the Circle Line in particular was renowned for its bars, at platform level. He reckonned several of them served a particularly fine pint of Draught Bass, and that one could go for a sort of “Undergrounf Pub Crawl”. He was probably talking about the late 1960’s early 1970’s.

I could just imagine him doing this. RIP Brian, you are still much missed.

That would have been an interesting variant on the standard Circl Line pub crawl, where you go round the entire Circle Line, getting out at each station and having a half in the nearest pub.
I remember the Sloane Sq bar very well, and mourn its passing every time I go through Sloane Sq station. London is a poorer place for the lack of these bars. Of course, all alcohol is banned on London Transport now.

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