In a small booklet called Offbeat in London, published in 1966, writer and illustrator Geoffrey Fletcher provided a list of his favourite London pubs.
Fletcher’s list is unusual and interesting for various reasons.
He knew a lot about architecture but wasn’t an architectural critic in the formal sense.
Nor was he a beer geek. In fact, he rarely mentions drink at all.
What really mattered to him was the vibe. In particular, he loved anything that felt like a relic of times past.
His books often focus on ghost signs, buildings that had dodged demolition and elderly people who remembered Queen Victoria.
Pubs, many of which were built in the high Victorian period, were one more aspect of this.
The pub list in Offbeat in London comes after a description of Henekey’s, “the sole representative of the vanished gin palace of Victorian London”. (It’s now a Sam Smith’s pub called The Citties of Yorke.) After notes on its fixtures and fittings, such as “the famous Waterloo stove”, Fletcher writes:
Having made a digression in the direction of refreshment, I take the opportunity to introduce a short list of my favourite London pubs, recommended for architecture and atmosphere, as well as for food and drink.
Here’s his list, with a brief quote from the more extensive notes in the book for each entry.
- The Salisbury | St Martin’s Lane, WC2 | “You go through the doors and find yourself at once in the London of Beardsley and Wilde.” | still trading
- The Red Lion | Duke of York Street, SW1 | “a perfect hall of mirrors, quite untouched since the Victorian age” | still trading
- The Albert | Victoria Street, SW1 | “a curiously American-like exterior with superb balconies” | still trading
- The Jolly Butchers | Stoke Newington | “fantastic Gothic ironwork” | still trading
- The Crown | Aberdeen Place, NW8 | “The interior has a strong flavour of the Diamond Jubilee about it…” | now a Lebanese restaurant but well preserved
- The Black Friar | Queen Victoria Street EC4 | “the most remarkable Arts and Crafts period pub in London” | still trading
- Mooney’s Irish House | Strand, EC4 | “Upright drinking, talk, stout, Irish whiskeys and crab sandwiches…” |
now The Tipperary, temporarily closedwas at 395 Strand, now closed (see correction in comments)
- The Nell Gwynn(e) | Bull Yard, WC2 | “Porter on draught… was sold here until only a few years ago.” | still trading
- The Final | William IV Street, WC2 | “a pile of turned mahogany, gold lettered mirrors and stained glass” | gone, we think
- The Paxton’s Head | Knightsbridge, SW1 | “the name is derived… from the designer of the Crystal Palace” | still trading
It’s interesting how many of these are still trading and retain some or all of the features that made Fletcher love them.
The Final, on the edge of Covent Garden, is the only one that seems to have completely disappeared. It’s not listed in any of the other ‘great London pubs’ books on our shelves, either.
So, with that in mind, let’s have a slightly extended quote:
The saloon has a mosaic floor Street to cool your feet, and a brass rail to rest them on when you are called to the bar… Best of all, perhaps, is the Schweppes advert for Soda Water and Dry Ginger Ale, with an Edwardian nymph, an Albert Moore-like figure, at a spring. Watching her from the opposite wall is a group of natty, whiskery gents in titfers, with the day’s shoot at their feet.
It turns out, however, that Fletcher wrote about The Final in a couple of other places. We don’t have a copy of London by Night but we do have Geoffrey Fletcher’s London from 1968 in which he recycles a chunk of the note above, adding that he rates it “almost as highly as Mooney’s”.
How interesting, and how sad, that a beautiful Victorian pub can completely disappear, not only physically, but also from the collective memory.
Thank goodness for Big Geoff F. and his eye for nostalgic detail.