Last time on our whistle-stop tour of London’s kookiest, oldest and most interesting public houses, we went from the haunts of Shakespeare and Dick Turpin in the North of the capital all the way to down to vintage cocktail bars with hidden fridge-based entrances in the more Southerly reaches. This time we’ll take in no less than three fantastic pubs along the same gorgeous stretch of the Thames in East London, before gradually heading West across the city, through the affluent and leafy streets of Mayfair and Kensington, and into London’s only pub with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Enjoy!
For our first stop in East London, where else would we begin but the Limehouse institution that is The Grapes. Having sat on the brilliantly-named Narrow Street for nearly 500 years, The Grapes was is held to have been a favourite drinking spot of Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens amongst others. Narrow Street itself has also long been popular among great artists during their stays in London, including Francis Bacon and the iconic American impressionist James Whistler, who lived here in the 1870s. Today, The Grapes is jointly owned by renowned thespian and knight of the realm Ian McKellen and Russian billionaire, and proprietor of the Evening Standard newspaper, Evgeny Lebedev. Can you get much more 21st century London than that?
Next up we have one of the oldest riverside pubs in London – although, as we found out in Part 1, many public houses dubiously claim this title too. Whatever the truth, The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping, has no doubt been around for at least 500 years. Once called The Devil’s Tavern in its early days, due to its reputation as a haven for smugglers and pirates, the Crown cracked down on its illegal activities in the 1700s – and many men who frequented the pub were hanged at Wapping dock, within 5 minutes’ walk, over the course of that century. Only the 400-year old flagstone floor remains of the original building however, which burned down sometime in the 1800s.
For our last stop in East London, you’ll have a short hop across the Thames to the historic Mayflower, in Rotherhithe. Named after the legendary ship that first took the Pilgrim settlers to the New World of America in 1620, there is some evidence that the boat itself moored nearby before setting out for Southampton. Certainly, it’s captain, Cristopher Jones, is buried in the nearby St Mary’s Church. Today, The Mayflower is the only pub in the UK licensed to sell stamps (yes, really) and regularly hosts themed nights such as quizzes and pie nights.
The last port of call on this epic journey of some of London’s most unusual pubs is something a little fancier. Not particularly historic but certainly tasty (if a little pricy) we have The Harwood Arms in Fulham. Just five minutes’ walk from Chelsea Football Club’s imposing Stamford Bridge stadium, The Harwood Arms is London’s only Michelin-Starred pub restaurant. Boasting fresh British produce, including hunted wild game, meals may cost about £50 to 60 for three courses – but you might just need your stomach lined after all those pints, at the finish of this historic walking tour.