A Fictional Pub Crawl Of London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 7 months ago
A Fictional Pub Crawl Of London

Some of London's finest — and indeed most notorious — pubs never actually existed. From speakeasies frequented by wizards to bars that get blown to Kingdom Come — read your way through these, and expect one hell of a fictional hangover tomorrow.

The Tabard, The Canterbury Tales

The Tabard Inn once existed. Image: Public domain

"Bifel that in that season on a day, In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay, Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage". Barely have we begun this fictional crawl, and already we're talking about actual pubs. Because although Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a seminal work of fiction — in which characters try to out-story one another in the hope of scoring a free meal — The Tabard was very much real. Founded around 1300, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of Southwark in 1669, and finally demolished in 1873 — presumably because its rickety old galleried ways were too comely for this world. Its neighbour, The George, fared better, and remains open to thirsty pilgrims.

The Leaky Cauldron, Harry Potter

With The Leaky Cauldron, J.K. Rowling essentially invented the contemporary speakeasy. Think about it: stepping through an unmarked door in the City, into a candlelit den full of beard-sporting fellows, knocking back curious concoctions? Sounds like a speakeasy to us. You can get a 'real' Butterbeer these days, although you'll have to travel to the Potter studios in Watford to sink one. Plenty of other copyright-dodging, pseudo-Potter cocktails can be found elsewhere in London.

The Duke of Burgundy, Passport to Pimlico

A piano-jangling knees-up in this 1949 Ealing Comedy, sees punters gleefully tear up their identity-cards, and toss them in the air like confetti. The reason? Pimlico is legally declared part of Burgundy, and the residents shun post-war rationing quicker than you can say 'Stanley Holloway'. Reminds us of when we were students, and the 24-hour drinking laws came into effect.

Samoan Joe's, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

"You could fall in love with an orangutan in that". Chances are some of you have quoted Jason Statham's character in Lock Stock, having been presented with a particularly foliage-heavy cocktail (see: our piece on speakeasies). Decades on from this gangster classic, London still suffers from a tragic dearth of Samoan pubs.

The Moon Under Water, a 1946 essay by George Orwell

Image: Shutterstock

Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has 'the proles' pub, likely based on the Newman Arms in Fitzrovia (this also appeared in the film Peeping Tom). But his real masterstroke was The Moon Under Water, a dream bar that he concocted for an essay. Beer is served in "pleasant strawberry-pink china". There's no music. The barmaids are all middle-aged and two of them "have their hair dyed in quite surprising shades". The pub sells tobacco, aspirins, stamps and liver-sausage sandwiches. Be more specific why don't you, George. Wetherspoon founder, Tim Martin based his first pubs on Orwell's boozetopia, naming some of them The Moon Under Water — including the one you'll find in Leicester Square. Don't bother asking them to serve your bitter in strawberry-pink china, though.

The Nag's Head, Only Fools and Horses

Nope, this is not the setting of Del Boy's epic falling through the bar (that's at some yuppy bar, remember?). The Nag's Head does, however, feature some of Only Fool's funniest scenes. Such as the time that Trigger tips off landlord Mike about the sex of Rodney's baby: "If it's a girl they're calling her Sigourney after an actress, and if it's a boy they're naming him Rodney... after Dave.". There's an actual Nag's Head in Peckham, although as far as we know, David Jason never set foot in it.

Korova Milk Bar, A Clockwork Orange

Once you've seen it, it's hard to forget the icy glare of Alex at the start of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. Alex and his droogs slurp drug-laced milk at the mannequin-festooned Korova Milk bar, while pondering their next bout of ultraviolence on the streets of London. There's a Korova restaurant in Tufnell Park these days, although you'll have to settle for a negroni, over moloko plus.

Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, Our Mutual Friend

Image: Shutterstock

"A tavern of a dropsical appearance" is how Charles Dickens rather glumly describes the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters — the pub in which shady folk assemble to fish corpses out of the Thames. Like The Tabard, it's based on a bricks and mortar pub, and unlike The Tabard, it still exists. It's the narrow Grapes pub — fittingly on Narrow Street in Limehouse — and now part-owned by a man who appeared as David Copperfield back in 1962 — Sir Ian McKellen. Look out from the verandah, and you will sometimes see a body part-submerged in the Thames outside; hopefully what you're seeing is a sculpture by Antony Gormley.

Scores of pubs, actual and otherwise, appear in Dickens' books, including The White Hart, where Mr Pickwick and his chums find "a farmer who was refreshing himself with a slight lunch of two or three pounds of cold beef and a pot or two of porter, after the fatigues of the Borough market."

The Black Cross, London Fields

A still from the long-awaited and widely-derided film of London Fields

What with its fruit machine fiddling clientele and iffy pork pie bar snacks, we've all unwittingly stepped into a Black Cross pub once or twice in our time. The setting for Martin Amis' black comedy has especially bleak consequences for Nicola Six, who finds the person who she knows is going to murder her, boozing here. Does this Portobello Road pub take its inspiration a place that once stood here, called The Golden Cross? Quite possibly.

The Queen Vic, EastEnders

"GET OUTTA MY PUB!" Nothing like a good East End welcome is there? Albert Square's regally-named local has been the setting for rows, fires, murders, divorces, cancelled Christmasses and innumerable tomato juices for Dot Cotton. Landlords/ladies have come and gone but Peggy Mitchell will always be the Queen, thanks to the chirpy way in which she liked to turf people out on their ear. EastEnders has had a number of fictional bars over the decades. Anyone remember The Dagmar? To be fair, it was only open from 1987-1988.

The Lion and Unicorn, The Long Good Friday

Note: Bob Hoskins does not appreciate it when you blow up his pub

This fictional pub from the Bob Hoskins/Helen Mirren gangster flick based in London's Docklands, makes the Queen Vic look like a safe bet. Spoiler: it gets blown to smithereens.

The Winchester Tavern, Shaun of the Dead

Somewhere that's familiar, you know where the exits are and you're allowed to smoke (well, it was pre-smoking ban days). The Winchester Tavern is supposed to be the perfect place for Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and co to have a nice cold pint and wait for the zombie apocalypse to blow over. Of course, things don't go quite according to plan: bring on the finest ever use of pool cues, Queen's Don't Stop Me Now and a cast of living dead.

Older readers might be screaming out "mention The Winchester Club from Minder!". No need to scream — we just mentioned it.

The Swan and Paedo, Peep Show

There's a litany of fictional sitcom pubs to drink in*: The Kebab and Calculator from The Young Ones. The Hand and Racquet from Hancock's Half Hour. The Vigilante from Citizen Smith. The Skinner's Arms from Steptoe and Son. The Frog and Nightgown from Ray's a Laugh (us neither). But surely the greatest sitcom pub that ever was (while it existed for a small portion of series three, episode two of Peep Show), was The Swan and Paedo. When the ownership of a boozer falls into the unlikely hands of ne'er-do-wells Jez and Super Hans, the former wants to call it The Swan and Tomato, while Hans is set on Free the Paedos. The resulting portmanteau tells you exactly why you should never settle on a compromise.

*See also: The Nag's Head

Last Updated 17 December 2018