Ever noticed the West End preponderance of drinking dens called 'The Blue Posts'? There are three in Soho alone, plus one in St James and one in Fitzrovia. A sixth on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Hanway Street closed down about 10 years ago. Historical records also point to a pub of similar name (the Two Blue Posts) on Old Bond Street
Two schools of thought seek to explain this nominative plenitude. Blue posts once demarcated the boundary of a royal hunting ground, claims the first. The theory is alluring—we all know that Soho takes its name from an old hunting cry—but it begins to look a little shaky when the pubs are plotted on a map (see below). This is a somewhat irregular space in which to hunt, and pays no heed to any of the ancient lanes that bordered the area. The second explanation has blue posts as the forerunners of taxi ranks. Sedan chairs could be hired from locations sporting azure bollards.
To find out more, and as an excuse to drink ourselves blue with booze, we set out on a pub crawl around the five remaining pubs to bear the name.
81 Newman street
This Blue Posts is often full of blue posties, thanks to its proximity to a mail depot (or is it the US Embassy?). It's a quaint place, with the usual charm and low prices of the Sam Smith's chain. On our Saturday visit, the place was so empty that the staff were playing darts. They knew nothing about the history of the name, but remained cheerful even when the only other customer ordered naught save a glass of water while keeping the fruit machine company for over half an hour. In busier times, the burgundy ceiling, cosy seating and wooden panelling offer atmospheric surroundings in which to enjoy a cheap ale.
22 Berwick street
This tiny pub in the duodenum of Soho is what lazy reviewers might call 'a good-old-fashioned boozer'. Blue number two is pokey, bathed in hazy red lighting and—a bit like that smelly 'aunt' who you don't like very much as a kid—sports a collection of wall-mounted plates from the Sunday supplements. It feels welcoming and local in an Eastenders kind of way. All tables are taken, so we stand at the bar to sample the Adnams and Directors. At one point, we catch the ear of the ageing landlord. He's encountered both explanations for the name of his pub but is unsure which is correct. It's looking doubtful that we'll solve the riddle if this wizened yeoman of the bar cannot enlighten us.
28 Rupert street
A short belch down the road brings us to our third installment. Soho is easing in to the Saturday night swing, and the painfully kitschy downstairs bar is crowded. We find a table upstairs in a comfortable space where photographs of London deck the walls. With the regrettable exception of our group, the room seems to be reserved for discreet snogging. By the time we remember to ask the staff about the Blue Posts legend, the downstairs bar is so crowded we decide to leave in ignorance.
18 Kingly Street
Carnaby Street might be more famous, but its parallel sibling is a much better stocked with booze. We've visited this branch of the Blue Posts non-franchise more than any other, and always find a table no matter how bustling the rest of Soho might be. Tonight is no exception, and we readily find space in the upstairs bar, nursing our Abbott (the ale, not the monastic dude; we lost him to the bawds of Rupert Street with whom he's now busy spoonerising Friar Tuck). Again, the staff could offer little insight and we settled in for a quiet if unremarkable pint. By this point, we're more than a little tipsy, and scrupulous note taking is replaced by painful hiccups. We even forget to take a photo. Hic.
6 Bennet Street
And so we reach the last Posts. And there's a pleasant surprise awaiting us. The pub sign hanging above this St James hostelry features a sedan chair and two brilliant-blue bollards. Is the enigma solved thanks to a hanging sign? Further inquiry bears fruit, possibly a blueberry. An information plaque on the entrance reads:
Although the existing “Blue Posts” replaces one which was destroyed during World War II, a pub of this name, on this site, was mentioned by the Restoration dramatist George Etheredge as early as 1667.The poet Lord Byron lived next door in 1813. The “Blue Posts” (two azure painted poles) once stood in the tavern’s forecourt and served as an advertisement for a fleet of sedan chairs which used to ply for hire in Bennet Street.
Bingo. We have confirmation of the sedan story as well as a source reference. Case closed, we head inside for a final drink. Of all tonight's bars, this is the most bland and Wetherspoons-esque, without the impressive premises or selection of ales (indeed, all bitter is off tonight). For a lacklustre pub in a side street behind the Ritz, the place is surprisingly busy, and we conclude our evening huddled around a wooden post (brown, alas) inside. There's a final hint of blue as we make our way home through the chilly November streets. Someone call us a sedan chair.
Previous alternative pubcrawls: