Once more unto the bar, dear friends, once more.
Stratford-upon-Avon may be the home of Shakespeare but, with every second business named after him, any attempt to do a Shakespeare-themed pub crawl there would probably end in severe liver damage. We know we’re biased, but we reckon London is the Bard’s spiritual home anyway. His plays were first staged here, he spent most of his adult life here, and a number of his history plays are set here. So we reckoned we would all sup together, and drink carouses to the next day’s fate, in honour of dear Will.
“Take him over the costard with the hilts of thy sword, and then throw him into the malmsey-butt in the next room.” Richard III, Act I Scene IV
The first pub on the route is the Duke of Clarence near Gloucester Road. The Duke, of course, is enshrined in popular memory as having been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine; Shakespeare actually has him stabbed and then the body chucked into the booze. Don’t say you never learn anything from us. We suspect this pub is probably more connected to old landowning royalty, but we liked the idea of starting a pub crawl with alcoholic death (plus: Gloucester Road / Duke of Gloucester / Richard III. It’s all coming together). The pub itself is very much a gastro affair, pretty much what you’d expect of such a gentrified area, all tasteful paint and wooden tables. The light fittings alone are bigger than rooms in some of our houses. Despite the tables being set for food and some self-consciously cool beermats, they also have Doom Bar and Royal London on tap and three TVs (for what’s a relatively small place) showing the World Cup.
“We the globe can compass soon, swifter than the wand’ring compass.” A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV, Scene 1
Before setting off, we’d rung the pubs on our route to check they were open Sundays – all with the exception of The Globe on Bow Street, assuming everything would be fine. It’s Covent Garden, after all. Ah, hubris. The doors were shut tight and we were barr’d, like one infectious. It’s like the Master of the Revels had closed the pub for the Sabbath. Still, never mind eh? The Marquess of Anglesey next door provided a pleasant respite with some interesting flock wallpaper and shrunken moosehead thingummies. It’s a Youngs pub with beers to match, though they do stock Pilsner Urquell in bottles (which seems to be getting harder to find these days).
“Be large in mirth; anon we’ll drink a measure the table round.” Macbeth Act III Scene IV
The 243 or 26 bus offers a short break in which to wolf down some food, or just allow the alcohol consumed so far to really settle into your blood stream, before you arrive at the Macbeth in Hoxton Street. We got there shortly after it opened and were the only punters in the place – a fairer assessment of the Macbeth’s vibe should be made around midnight, watching a band, surrounded by people with better haircuts than us. Still, we were able to appreciate the tiled mural of the infamous banquet scene and the lovely terrace on the first floor, which was a perfect venue for play re-enactments. Less lovely was a toilet in the gents described as so “elaborately bunged up” we wondered whether or not it was supposed to be art. There’s a photo if you don’t believe us. Oh, and if you want to see the actual play it’s running at the Globe until 27th June.
“The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath.” Hamlet Act V Scene II
It was only recently that we twigged one of the underlying reasons why Hamlet’s so cheesed off: his uncle, as well as marrying his mother, has usurped Hamlet’s own throne. Rather than Prince, Hamlet should have been King of Denmark. Thankfully the Islington pub provides real ale without poisoned pearls in it and – judging by the smell – some good Thai food. We decided to enjoy some late afternoon sunshine on the tables outside rather than admire the light and airy interior (with, naturally, TVs showing the World Cup). And the Denmark connection? Probably more down to the pub being sited on the corner of Copenhagen Street.
“By my troth, I do now remember the poor creature, small beer.” Henry IV Part 2, Act II Scene II
The Shakespeare’s Head looks like a terrible council estate pub, but in fact it’s a real gem. Tucked next to Sadler’s Wells, the actual owners man the bar as opposed to hired-in, couldn’t-care-that-much staff, and the pub has a cosy, compact feel. We admired the photos of 80s stars on the wall (Stefan Dennis!) to the sound of an Irish fiddle group in the corner – not playing for an audience, but for the joy of playing. There’s even a garden out the back, hiding the Islington concrete with lots of greenery.
Of course, there are tons of other pubs we could have visited with a Shakespeare connection, however tenuous – but we do wonder why so many of them are cavernous next-to-station joints (the Shakespeare in Victoria, we’re looking at you). Anyway: The Shakespeare, Dalston; the infamous Shakespeare’s Head on Carnaby Street; the small-but-perfectly-formed Globe in London Bridge; the massive Globe opposite Baker Street station; the Globe on Moorgate; the Mortimer Arms on Tottenham Court Road… any more?
Previous alternative pub crawls: Tudor boozers, rude and lewd drinking dens, the Blue Posts, scientific pubs, Houses of Parliament bars, the East London Line extension.
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