Bored of the endless stream of articles telling you that it’s St George’s Day and/or Shakespeare’s birthday? Us too. So we’re off down the pub to forget all about it. Then again, we ought to make it a pub with a Bard/George theme. Actually, we might as well dash off an article while we’re at it. Sorry. Here are a selection of London pubs with Shakespearian connections, and a final one that combines both the Bard and the Saint.
The Horse & Groom: a small Curtain Road pub remarkable for being exactly and precisely OK. Its trump card, though, is the (inaccessible) yard out the back, where archaeologists recently found the remains of The Curtain theatre. Little is known about this predecessor to the Globe, but it might have staged the premiere of Romeo and Juliet, among other Shakespeare plays. It is also ‘this wooden O’, mentioned in the prologue to Henry V.
The Cockpit: a lovely little boozer near Blackfriars station. It takes its name from the sport of cock fighting, practiced in the pub during Georgian times. You can still see the first floor gallery where bloodthirsty punters would view the avian battles. For our purposes, though, the Cockpit also reckons to be built on the site of Shakespeare’s former home. In truth, we only know that Shakespeare bought a property in adjacent Ireland Yard, which might have included land where the Cockpit now stands.
Ye Olde Mitre: often described as London’s hardest pub to find, Ye Olde Mitre lurks down a passageway off Hatton Garden. It’s a charming old place, that dates back to The Bard’s times. The connection goes further, however. This patch of land is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard III, when the king-to-be compliments the Bishop of Ely on his Holborn strawberries, which would have been grown right next to where this pub is built. The area, including Ely Place, remained an enclave of Cambridgeshire until recent times.
The Macbeth: shouty music bar in Hoxton which is great for gigging, but perhaps not so apt for quiet contemplation of eminent playwrights. If the doorman won’t let you in, dress up as Great Birnam Wood, and attempt to sneak up on the bar.
Shakespeare’s Head: bustling tourist pub on Carnaby Street. There are better options in town, but this one’s a winner thanks to the pallid Shakespeare bust peering down from the first floor.
Shakespeare’s Head: this one, round the back of Sadler’s Wells, is much better, despite the unassuming exterior. Timewarp pubbery, where everything is from the 1970s and everybody is friendly. Good beer garden, too.
The Swan: the nearest pub to the rebuilt Globe is actually more of a restaurant, but you’re welcome to sit in for a drink. The place also serves as the de facto toilets for the nearby Rose Theatre.
The George: This Borough institution is the ultimate place to toast both Shakespeare and St George. The latter gives his name to the pub and is featured on the hanging sign; the former held plays in the courtyards of such inns…possibly including an inn on the site of The George.
You’ll find dozens of other Georges, Shakespeares and Globes around town. Perhaps string them together into a Shakespeare pub crawl. As you like it.
See also: our new microsite of London’s best pubs.