Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mind the Gap - A London Pub Crawl


One of our best trips yet, we recently spent 10 days in London. Theater, architecture, food, history, museums, royalty, etc, there was way too much to handle. If someone asked me the highlight of the trip it would simply be that there is so much to do no matter what mood you are in. What makes London so sensational is the combination of numerous, smaller areas that flow together to create one fascinating city. 

Our first stop after checking into the hotel - No better way to get rid of jet lag!

But lets be honest here, the most time was spent at the heart of English tradition, in the pub! We booked a pub crawl with Mind the Gap and were rewarded with an amazing liquid history tour lead by John. Meant to quench our thirst with traditional cask ales, it also opened up our eyes to a historical culture that has gone on for hundreds of years. Each pub in some way reflected the history of the city. We not only discovered some of the most delightful watering holes in the city, but as an added bonus developed a critical eye for finding other traditional pubs later on. And even though beer was heavily involved, this will be my first shout out to the awesome people of England. We were the only foreigners on the tour, and at each bar we had lively, engaging conversations with others. Cheers!

The George Inn was our first stop and exactly the type of place I was hoping for. This was originally built as an inn in the 1600's. It is divided into a number of unique rooms fashioned more like fancy sitting rooms than traditional bars. Shows would take place in the courtyard outside and be viewed by patrons from the gallery on the second floor. It was these shows that may have influenced modern theater and how it is viewed by the audience. Particularly famous individuals Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, and Winston Churchill drank here or stayed at the original inn.



Mind the Gap Pub Crawl
Built as an inn, the courtyard is to the left and viewed nicely from the gallery
This may be where people gathered to watch some of Shakespeare's works
After a stroll past the entrance to Diagon Alley (for my fellow Harry Potter fans), along the Thames, over Millennium Bridge, and near St. Paul's Cathedral, we stopped at The Black Friar, an ornately designed pub. Architecturally similar to New York's Flat Iron building, this pub's decoration should be reserved for a museum. Inside the cozy pub, every detail is intricately designed. The pub is built on the site of a 13th century monastery and the interior is full of bronze castings of monks. Maybe the best description came from our tour guide who described this as an "art nouveau classic."


Mind the Gap Pub Crawl
The outside of The Black Friar
The interior is lavishly decorated with only high quality materials
The group is feeling pretty good at this point, just in time to get to my favorite pub of the entire trip, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub was divided into some incredible nooks and crannies. Heading down the steps lead to a labyrinth like basement area where we ordered our drinks before exploring. While I was still reveling in the cask ales, Anna made the switch to wine at this point! Another level was almost like a wine cellar, with little nooks in the wall you could get lost in to enjoy a private conversation or a pint in peace. Finally, the main level oozed character, and the wood fire was blaring. The cozy heat and smell of a fire burning was perfect. I could almost envision Charles Dickens famously sitting next to the fire in this historic establishment.


Mind the Gap Pub Crawl
Nice view from the front
Roaring fire - The bar was five feet to the left, to the right was Dickens' favorite seat
Just a little history 
At this point my details of the stops are more hazy as the pints continued to flow and conversation didn't stop. The 4th stop was at the Seven Stars, a gem hole in the wall pub. Tiny and narrow, we had to fight our way through to the bar, which contained little containers of cat food for the owner's pets. Story goes that without fail, some drunk individual most days ends up digging in and munching on cat food thinking it is a bar snack. Even if there weren't cats, my guess is they keep the food in place just for that amusement. Finally, we ended up at The Princess Louise, a fancy Victorian bar where no expense was spared developing the extravagant interior.

The tour was a highlight of the trip and since we did this right away, we left with a list of additional pubs that we tried our best to frequent. A couple of highlights include Southwark Tavern, where we drank in what was originally a jail cell, and The Cittie of Yorke, a historic medieval hall that looked like an old church. One defining aspect of a traditional pub is the lack of music and any electronic screens, TVs or games. The pub was intended to be a place where people drank and socialized, and the best ones retain this aura by not allowing modern electronics, I loved it! 

Drinking in jail!
Cittie of Yorke
Cittie of Yorke 
Combining two of my favorite things, beer and history, we couldn't have received a better introduction to London. We even had dinner that night with Simon and Claire, a fantastic couple from the tour. They gave us all kinds of ideas for the rest of our trip. We discussed food, politics, theater, and even though it was my first time in the city, I felt immediately at home.

Cheers!

2 comments:

  1. I had a similar experience when I visited Scotland. However, I was with my college class, so I wasn't able to feel the freedom of doing what I wanted. That said, I did immerse myself in their culture, got to know many Scots, tested out the local watering holes, golfed, and it was all simply lovely! I want to go back to the UK again soon!

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    1. That all sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing. While my experience was brief, the UK has so much to offer and see, I wish I could spend months traveling there. Scotland is a must for us, so we will have to reach out for some advice before we go! Cheers!

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