Monday, March 6, 2017

5 of My Favorite British Pubs

Pubs - possibly (probably) the best way to enjoy the U.K. 

So far one of my favorite forms of sightseeing in the U.K. is visiting old or unusual pubs, and we've definitely stopped in a few great ones during our visit the past few months. Here are some of my favorites from my travels so far.

The Blackfriar - London

The Blackfriar makes up for not being very old (by London standards) with its incredible interior and the triangular building that houses it. It was built in 1875 and then remodeled in 1905, but the sculptures of monks that line the walls were done by the British sculptor, Henry Poole, and the site itself is the original location of a 13th century friary. Even more interesting, it's apparently where King Henry VIII held his divorce hearing. (Info and photo below come from this site.)

It also endeared itself to me by having a favorite beer of mine, Fraoch, a Scottish ale brewed with heather, which the brewers claim is made with a recipe from 2000 B.C.E. I'd take that claim with a grain of salt, but the beer is unique and worth a try.

The Blackfriar Pub interior (photo credit)

Outside of The Blackfriar Pub in London (photo credit)

Fraoch, a Scottish ale brewed with heather from a "2000 BCE recipe"

Under the Stars - Bristol

There are a lot of pubs and cafes on boats around Bristol, thanks to the presence of the Avon River curling through the center of the city. The docks are a really nice area to walk around, if you don't mind the crowds. One of the pubs-on-a-boat is Under the Stars, located right in the most central part of Bristol near the Hippodrome theater. We had some nice tapas and drinks there on the deck of the boat overlooking the docks.

Inside the Under the Stars cafe/pub (photo credit)

Under the Stars in central Bristol (photo credit)

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - London

Another incredible London pub, this one actually is very old: the first pub on the site was built in 1538, and was rebuilt in 1667 following the Great Fire. The pub is like a warren of narrow, dimly-lit rooms twisting through the building, the most atmospheric of which are the vaulted cellars, thought to have originally been part of a 13th century monastery that once existed there. It's had its fair share of famous literary patrons over the years, including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. And to make the place even more attractive, the beer was pretty cheap for a London establishment.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, tucked away in a narrow London alley (photo credit)

In one of the vaulted cellar rooms of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (photo credit)

The Llandoger Trow - Bristol

Probably Bristol's oldest pub and another place to visit if you want to follow in the footsteps of some of the U.K.'s literary giants. The name comes from the Welsh town Llandogo which once built flat-bottomed barges that traded in Bristol. It's in an amazing Tudor building with typical slanting buildings, leaning ever so slightly under the weight of their years. It was originally a row of houses which were built in 1664 near the docks in central Bristol. Incredibly it managed to survive being bombed during WWII with three of the original five houses remaining. It's supposedly the favorite drinking spot of the pirate Blackbeard, as well as the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow Inn that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in Treasure Island. And rumor has it that Daniel Defoe met the privateer Alexander Selkirk here, the man who survived being castaway on a South Pacific Island and became the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. As if all of that wasn't enough to make the pub interesting, its supposedly haunted by as many as 15 ghosts (15?? Really? I feel like people are getting a little carried away here.)

The Llandoger Trow, Bristol's oldest pub (photo credit)
The original building, prior to bombing in WWII (photo credit)

The Old Bank of England - London

Probably the most unusual pub I've visited, this one is housed in an old bank that was converted into a pub in the mid-nineties. It still looks very much like an extravagant old bank, with gold chandeliers, marble, a high ceiling and an amazing wooden bar that looks like a bankers counter. Aside from some tourists, the patrons seem to mostly be London business people, whose suits and formal attire add to the overall atmosphere. Before it was a bank, a pub existed on the site from the 16th century until it was demolished in 1888 and the spot was claimed by the Bank of England. Another interesting bit of history is that this location was supposedly between where Sweeny Todd had his barber shop and the pie shop next door, so that the cellars beneath the current pub would've been where Todd butchered his victims. (Info from this site.) Unlike Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese this is not a cheap spot for a drink, but it's worth one over-priced beverage to sit and soak in the atmosphere for awhile. 

The exterior of The Old Bank of England, looking nearly as grand as the interior (photo credit)

Inside The Old Bank of England (photo credit)

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