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London’s best pubs in 1968: mini-skirts and toasties

The January 1968 edition of Town magazine (“For men”) includes a guide to pubs in London and the surrounding area. How many are still there, and still good?

The guide is split into sections starting with pub entertainment. The first entry is a theme pub – one of our pet topics:

The Blue Boar, Leicester Square. Cheerfully, blatant subterranean restaurant and bar devoted to the Robin Hood theme: ‘Kindly deposit ye arrows,’ and ‘Knights’ and ‘Dames’ etc. Sounds awful, but is tremendous fun. Mock torches, waitresses in medieval gear, Maid Marian cocktails, free cheese ‘from the Sheriff’s larder’ and cut as much as you want.

Now, how’s that for a flying start? The London Picture Archive has an image from 1975. The magnificent building is still there but is no longer a pub.

There was modern jazz at The Bull’s Head in Barnes with “American stars”. It’s still there, still a pub, and – amazingly – still hosts a jazz club. There’s a pleasing sense of permanence there. 

Other jazz pubs included The Iron Bridge in Poplar (Marylanders on Sunday, New State Jazzband on Monday, Hugh Rainey All Stars on Tuesday and Alan Elsdon’s Jazz Band on Wednesday; demolished) and The Tally Ho in Kentish Town. (Became a punk pub, then demolished.)

If you wanted protest songs and folk music the anonymous author suggests The Horseshoe Hotel on Tottenham Court Road on Sunday evenings. There was apparently also cheap food to be had in the dive bar. This 1976 photo shows it in Ind Coope livery. It was demolished years ago.

We’ve written before about The Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs. As the Town pub guide explains:

Where journalist and TV personality Dan Farson inaugurated the now wildly successful Stars and Garter era of modern East End music hall. Few East Enders in sight but packed for the excellent entertainment.

It’s still there as a pub and boutique hotel, without music hall acts.

The Deuragon Arms in Homerton is described as “the best of the untainted and uncommercialised East End fun palaces” where “Marks and Sparks shirts glitter in the ultra-violet lights”. Snooty! It’s long gone, replaced by flats.

Also mentioned in this section are The Lamb & Flag, Covent Garden; The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping; St Stephen’s Tavern in Westminster; The Samuel Whitbread on Leicester Square; and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street.

LP cover for "The Entertainers" featuring a warm Victorian pub interior.
A 1960s record featuring the interior of the Waterman’s Arms.

City of London pubs in 1968

This section features a lot of wine bars, chophouses, and quasi-pubs. But there is one excellent sounding theme pub:

Square Rigger, King William Street, EC3. A modern pub with a yo-ho-ho theme, as befits a boozer only a stone’s throw from the Pool of London. Canned noise of the sea, ship’s timbers, etc, but none the worse for it considering the large number of dirty and characterless pubs in the City.

From the outside it was a concrete booze bunker and was demolished in the 1980s.

Engraved glass on the door of a pub with Restaurant and Saloon Bar.
The Antelope in 2017.

The pubs of Belgravia

This section has a list of familiar classics, many of which we’ve visited, and some of which we wrote about back in 2017.

The Antelope on Eaton Terrace, the guide says, is “a male pub, full of beer swillers and hearties”. The Duke of Wellington, also on Eaton Terrace, is “full of the classier flat dwellers” and “Lots of lovely girls” The Grenadier on Wilton Row has been in every single pub guide for decades, as far as we can tell. Here we’re told it has “the ghost of a grenadier flogged to death” and “classy birds, but usually accompanied”. The Wilton Arms on Kinnerton Street “claims to be the smallest pub in London” where you can “get served by one of the miniest skirts”. All four of these pubs are still there and still trading, in one form or another.

The Red Lion in Pimlico is an unusual entry. It’s described as “a fine modern pub built into a block of GLC flats”. You’re probably wondering about “the birds” aren’t you? This being a less posh neighbourhood at the time the author got in a dig alongside his sexism: “a little more obviously bleached”. This became The Belgravia which, oddly enough, was one of the pubs Jess drank in a lot after work during the noughties. It’s now a restaurant.

An ornate Art Nouveau pub at night.
The Black Friar.

Quirky architecture and vibe

The section called ‘Character pubs’ starts The Black Friar at Blackfriars with its unique Art Nouveau decor which was literally a cause célèbre in the 1960s. It’s still there, still beautiful, but perhaps not a great place to drink these days.

Carrs on the Strand grabbed our interest with mention of its new “German Schloss Keller” with “Lowenbrau and Bavarian snacks served by mini-skirted waitresses”. There was a trend for this back in the 1960s and 70s which we wrote about for CAMRA’s BEER magazine. That piece is collected in our book Balmy Nectar if you want to read it.

The Surrey Tavern on Surrey Street also rang a bell and that’s because it was the Australian pub in London in the 1960s: “If you want to know what Australia’s like skip the pamphlets and come here.” It’s not only gone but doesn’t seem to have left much of a trace on the usual pub history websites.

The others mentioned in this section are The York Minster in Soho (AKA The French House), which is still going, and a bunch of wine bars like El Vino.

An illustration of some pies adapted from an old cook book.

Pub grub

There’s a relatively small list of pubs chiefly known for decent food. Fittingly, one is The Earl of Sandwich in the West End where “they commemorate their namesake by selling at 9d a round some of the cheapest sandwiches in London”. It was apparently opposite The Garrick Theatre. Does anybody know exactly where?

The Museum Tavern in Bloomsbury gets in because it had cheap student meals. It’s still there although we’ve not been for a while and don’t know if it still serves Old Peculier as a regular beer.

The Albion at Ludgate Circus gets a positive rave review for food “deliriously superior to usual pub fare” including toasted sandwiches and home-made pies. Toasties and pies! That’s really all we ask. It’s still there and looks rather handsome. Why have we never noticed it before? Despite this being another part of town where Jess hung out a lot 20 years ago, she doesn’t recall ever drinking there.

Beyond the boozer

For additional context, the same issue also has Cyril Ray’s pick of the wines, including Grande Fine Champagne 1948 at £6 a bottle; a recommendation for the film the Dutchman starring Laurence Harvey; and high praise for Dusty Springfield’s album Where Am I Going.

Why write a post like this?

That’s a good question. It’s mostly so that if someone is researching any of the pubs above they might find a nugget or two of useful information via Google.

Increasingly, we think of this now rather ancient blog as, among other things, a sort of index to our library of books, magazines and cuttings about beer and pubs.

And if nothing else, it was fun to spend an hour or two in 1968, where things were different, but also the same.

5 replies on “London’s best pubs in 1968: mini-skirts and toasties”

The Museum Tavern in Bloomsbury gets in because it had cheap student meals. It’s still there although we’ve not been for a while and don’t know if it still serves Old Peculier as a regular beer.

Answer……………….It does not. However The Swan in Cosmo Place WC1 does – it started doing so when the Museum stopped offering it and thay said as a consequence many customers moved from the Museum to the Swan. Both pubs are operated by Greene King.

The Albion at Ludgate Circus is run by a Canadian, and is the unofficial viewing place of the Winter Olympics for the Canadians in London. No matter where in the world they are being held, seems to be open for the ice hockey finals every time they come around.

That might be an interesting feature in that for someone. Sounds like Will Hawkes territory.

I didn’t visit the Albion until the 1980s, but it certainly served excellent food then: in particular, the fish and chips were as good as you might find in the best fish and chip shop; and the steaks were superb – certainly the best I have ever had in a pub. You wouldn’t have gone just for the beer, which was unexciting but serviceable Ind Coope (Taylor Walker bitter, I think), but I had many memorable meals there, particularly in the upstairs restaurant. I recall taking my team to the Albion for a Christmas celebration in 1989, but some time after that the management and the food changed, and the pub was “refurbished”. I haven’t been in since, but still have happy memories of what was probably something of an anachronism in the City even in the late 80s. (Incidentally, according to the 1986 East London and City beer guide, it was a cider house until the mid-1950s.)

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