Dotted around our fair city are plenty of pubs with chin-stroke-inducing names. A plethora of these reference obscure traditions. Some tell of unusual past lives the building once had. Others, are named for figures of local interest. And finally some are named after people — or animals — that only exist in works of fiction. Today, we're focusing on that last category, fictional characters immortalised in London's pubs.
The Owl and the Pussycat, Ealing/Shoreditch
There are two The Owl and the Pussycat pubs in London, both inspired by Edward Lear's masterpiece. Let's start with the lesser known of the two, The Owl and the Pussycat micropub in Ealing. This is west London's first micropub, and it's taken up residence in a former children's bookshop. The pub serves beers from the owners' Marko Paulo microbrewery based in the back room, along with kegged beers, which is rather unusual for a micropub.
Amusingly, the pub's website has an employee of the month competition. By August 2018 the pussycat had won the title 13 times, compared to the owl's paltry eight.
The other pub named after Lear's poem lives in buzzy Shoreditch. Or perhaps it's the other way round; on some Friday evenings it feels like Shoreditch's buzz emanates from The Owl and the Pussycat and the swell of people spilling out onto the street. This is much more than a post-work drinking hole though — there's an extensive menu offering pies, roasts, fish and chips and other pub classics. But if it's booze you're after, then head upstairs to the dedicated cocktail bar enticingly/unnervingly (delete as appropriate) called The Jago.
The Owl and the Pussycat (Ealing micropub), 106 Northfield Avenue, W13 9RT
The Owl and the Pussycat (Shoreditch), 34 Redchurch Street, E2 7DP
Brave Sir Robin, Crouch Hill
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin — that's four braves for those of you who are counting. Remember the ironically named Brave Sir Robin and his band of narrating minstrels from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The man who was supposedly unafraid at the prospect of having his eyes gouge out or his elbows broken... until at the first sign of danger he turns tail and makes a run for it: "Brave Sir Robin ran away".
The pub is just round the corner from Crouch Hill station and unlike the man it's named after you won't want to flee. You can spend all day curled up on the sofa working your way through the outrageously large beer selection — there are 20 casks and kegs on rotation.
Brave Sir Robin, 29 Crouch Hill, N4 4AP
The Artful Dodger, Tower Hill
Beware of pickpockets when you sup at The Artful Dodger in Tower Hill. We kid — despite its namesake, there's no evidence of thieving in the pub. For those who know Oliver Twist and his companions more through the musical than the novel, than you might have difficulty recognising the original incarnation of Dodger. He isn't quite as charming as in later versions and it's alluded to that he ends up in a penal colony in Australia. From the outside, the pub looks like a bit of a questionable place that fits the character's original nature, but inside it's got a beautiful Victorian bar that you can marvel at for hours.
The location of a pub with this name is somewhat questionable. The nearby Tower of London gets mentioned in a whopping nine Dickens books, but Oliver Twist isn't one of them. Still the fact that it's here means you can get a sight of it on your right, as you zoom out of Tower Gateway on the DLR.
The Artful Dodger, 47 Royal Mint Street, E1 8LG
Laughing Gravy, Waterloo
Blackfriars Road's The Laughing Gravy is now more bar and restaurant than pub, but its past life combined with the fact that you can still get a decent drink earns it a spot on this list, as does its name referencing a Laurel and Hardy short film from the 1930s. In the film, the pair desperately and unsuccessfully try to hide their dog — named Laughing Gravy — from their pub landlord. No pets allowed? Clearly little has changed for London landlords.
The Laughing Gravy is a great shout if you're looking to avoid the mega-crowds in Waterloo as a show files out from The Old Vic. If you do head in for a meal, be ready for a seasonal menu that's unafraid of getting experimental. If instead you stick to the bar, things here are weighted more towards wine and cocktails instead of anything that comes in a pint glass.
The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8EN
The Mad Bishop and Bear, Paddington
So here we have a half and half-er. One half — The Mad Bishop — isn't drawn from fiction. Instead this Fuller's pub in Paddington station references the railway station's genesis. The Great Western Railway found a plot of land it thought perfect for its marquee station, but dreaded the thought of negotiating with the landowner — which just so happened to be Westminster Abbey. Except the church gave them the land for a pittance, something that the railway people clearly thought "mad".
The second half is completely fictional, although you might forget that upon walking round the station. Michael Bond's Paddington Bear has a statue, a bench and a pub all dedicated to him. We've looked at the pub's menu and alas, not a marmalade sandwich in sight.
The Mad Bishop and Bear, Paddington Station, W2 1HB
The Walrus and the Carpenter, Monument
Edward Lear isn't the only nonsensical poet whose work adorns pub signs in London. Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There shares that honour. The poem is recited by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and the two characters in the poem trick a group of oysters away from safety, so the Walrus and the Carpenter can eat them. Lovely stuff.
This is the ideal pub to kick back in with a pint after clambering up 311 steps to the summit of The Monument, which is just a hop, skip and jump away. Grub will be necessary — an all-round refuel is in order after that climbing — so it's lucky that these guys are, in their own words, 'proper connoisseurs of sausages and chops'. There are other options for the sausage-averse and vegetarians, although no oysters — apologies to all walruses and carpenters.
The Walrus and the Carpenter, 45 Monument Street, EC3R 8BU
The Owl and Hitchhiker, Holloway Road
This Holloway Road pub objectively wins the fictional characters in names competition — because it has not one, but two entirely separate works of fiction (and their characters) in its name. First comes the Owl, of The Owl and the Pussycat fame. Yes, people like Edward Lear's nonsense poem so much that it has three London pubs named after it.
The latter part of the pub's name is an homage to Douglas Adams' wacky sci-fi series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Apart from a penchant for silliness, what connects these two rather disparate works is the authors: both lived in the Holloway Road area at one stage in their life.
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It would be all too easy to have a brilliant pub name, combined with a rather boring boozer, but fortunately The Owl and Hitchhiker does not fall afoul of that potential pitfall. It's a mad mash-up of bright colours, bunting and a wooden owl. And the drink selection is pretty good too.
The Owl and Hitchhiker, 471 Holloway Road, N7 6LE
Betsey Trotwood, Clerkenwell
The second Dickensian character to grace this list, this one a little more obscure than the Dodger. Betsey Trotwood is David Copperfield's great-aunt in... you guessed it, David Copperfield. Betsey is a rather eccentric figure in the novel: she initially doesn't take any interest in David because he's male and she's sworn off the entire sex, but eventually comes round to him.
Betsey Trotwood the pub has an illustration of Betsey hanging up outside, but that's where the connection ends — yes, men are allowed to drink here. We recommend visiting the Betsey if you're looking for a Clerkenwell pub with entertainment, be that live music, comedy, or rather unusually for a pub, poetry recitals. Perhaps you can read from your poem whose protagonist will be immortalised in a pub name in 100 years.
Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3BL
Have we missed any? Tell us in the comments below.
A version of this article appears in Londonist Drinks, our book about pubs, bars and the history of drinking in the capital.