Prestel sent me a copy of Great Pubs Of London to check out; with photography from Charlie Dailey, words from George Dailey and a forward from publican, actor and wizard, Sir Ian McKellen. It’s a coffee table book for pub geeks, so… imagine your coffee table with cast iron legs and beer matts under that one wonky leg. And slightly sticky.
A beautiful book full of beautiful pubs- I do love being sent things so relevant to my interests. After copious amounts of sniffing the freshly printed pages I found myself a comfy seat in the Joiners Arms on Victoria Street and a half of porter and set down to actually reading it.
Of the infamous boozers featured I’ve sadly only patronised two, The Lamb and Flag in Convent Garden (A pub I visited whilst working at Lincoln’s Lamb and Flag. I was a teenager and London is big and scary so I just found a pub with an appropriate name. I was lucky enough that this was a wonderful pub and not a venue of questionable clientele there to frighten a fledgling pubgoer.) and The Olde Cheshire Cheese off Fleet Street.
It was only a few months ago that I was sat in the Cheshire Cheese trying all of Samuel Smith’s fruit beers with my friends and eating a frankly obnoxiously delicious battered goat’s cheese. At five o’clock on a weekday the pub was spilling over with life. Tourists and the workers of Fleet Street crammed on the same wooden tables, talking and drinking happily.
When I opened this book to the Cheshire Cheese’s entry I find this picture of the cellar bar where I sat that looks like a slice of history. If it wasn’t so clean I would question that the photo has been taken in 2016 at all. Serene and candlelight the cellar bar couldn’t look more different to the packed and lively room in which I stuffed goat’s cheese into my face on a Monday afternoon. When you look at the other pictures in the book you see modern fonts and foil peanut packets and you realise how much some of our beloved pubs are living museums still the same in essence as they always have been.
The book is filled with beautiful photographs of these stunning old pubs accompanied by miniature histories of the pubs with tales of drinking, dancing and debauchery and name drops from Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and Jack Dempsey. Although I would challenge the claim that Dylan Thomas left the manuscript for Under Milk Wood on a bar stool in The French House as I first heard that anecdote in a beautiful old pub in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, called The Coach & Horses.
If you’re looking for a list of great pub recommendations then this isn’t what this book is for. This is for readers and drinkers who want to submerge themselves in the history of the great British institution.
Great Pubs Of London is available from any good bookseller (and several less good ones) from 5th September 2016.