Raising The Bar

9 June 2009

The Ministry of Mixology, Benjamin Morris and Bradon Smith, review their favourite London pubs

We don’t know where our favourite pubs in London are. Granted, to say so is not an auspicious start to a round-up of some of the capital’s finest drinking holes, we’ll be the first to admit. But bear with us: it’s not that we don’t have favourites, but for various reasons we just don’t know where some of them are.

One of our favourites is in Soho, called The Dog and Duck, and it’s on a corner of two streets. We wish we could tell you which ones, but whenever we try to go there, we can’t find it—it’s moved from where we last saw it. Of course as soon as we’re not looking for the pub we stumble right on it, and in the spirit of a properly playful quantum phenomenon, would feel as though we’d cheated in writing its address down.

Should you be so lucky to find the Dog and Duck, you’ll find the walls of this beautiful but tiny pub are adorned floor to ceiling with mirrors and tiles, lending the place a casual opulence. To admire it best, go for a pint of one of their excellent ales at lunchtime—in the evenings it fills up and spills out into the street.

Ye Olde Mitre, a wonderfully dingy alehouse, is also rather hard to find, tucked into Ely Court in Holborn. But we don’t know exactly where this London pub is for a rather different reason: it’s actually located in Cambridgeshire. Built for the servants of the Bishop of Ely, since the 16th century the Mitre has been under the aegis of Cambridgeshire (officially, it was ceded to London in the 1970s, but again, there’s no fun in that, either). Even London policemen the story goes, were required to seek permission before entering, and will still tip their hats at the threshold out of respect.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” said Dr Johnson, no stranger to a tavern himself. If you’re not sure where you are, and you’d like to follow in his footsteps round the capital, we suggest you look no further than Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, tucked in a narrow alleyway just off the Strand. The Cheese, and one of the good Doctor’s favourite places to wet his prodigious whistle (often with his biographer Boswell—each has a room named after him), retains its reputation as one of the most hospitable public houses in London. Not just due the fact that it sits on the site of pubs dating back to the 13th century, or that they serve a very well-kept pint of Samuel Smith’s, but so hospitable, in fact, that they couldn’t say farewell to their most famous patron: their beloved house parrot. He’s now stuffed on the mantle.

So, when in doubt in London, follow your liver. Or was that the river? Either way, you never know what you’ll find around its next bend. Till then, we hope you have an inspired Easter Term, and will see you in May Week with a very special—flaming—surprise indeed.