Ever noticed the West End's 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 in the 1990s. Much further back, a Two Blue Posts pub could be found at 32 Old Bond Street, while an Old Blue Posts famous for its dining room, closed round the corner in Cork Street in 1911. Another was located on Shoe Lane in the City.
Why are there so many pubs called the Blue Posts?
An old legend suggested that blue posts were once used to demarcate the boundary of a royal hunting ground. The theory is alluring — Soho supposedly 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 — backed up, as we'll see, by hanging signs — has blue posts as the forerunners of taxi ranks. Sedan chairs could be hired from any location sporting an azure bollard. We're sceptical. In the absence of any primary account that mentions such posts (that we're aware of), might these places have taken their names as a means of identification before the advent of door numbers?
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.
A pub crawl of Blue Posts
The Blue Posts, 81 Newman Street
This Blue Posts was once full of blue posties, thanks to its proximity to an old mail depot (since demolished). 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. In busier times, the burgundy ceiling, cosy seating and wooden panelling offer atmospheric surroundings in which to enjoy a cheap ale. The pub carries an attractive hanging sign, which confirms the meaning of the Blue Posts as a mounting site for sedan chairs.
The Blue Posts, 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 at night 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. That's if you make it through the door. With frosted glass all around the place can look like it's shut during the day time.
The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert Street
A short belch down the road brings us to our third instalment. This iteration (established 1739) underwent a total transformation in early 2018 and couldn't be more different from its Berwick Street namesake. Gone is the crowded, almost charming hangout of former times, replaced with something altogether sleeker and modern. This pint-sized boozer has the feel more of a cocktail bar than a pub, and it's a pleasant surprise to spot several cask ales from independent brewers behind the bar. Further up-market drinking and dining spaces can be found in the basement and first floor. This is by far the swankiest of the BPs, but it's also the bluest, with a striking paint job on the outside.
The Blue Posts, 18 Kingly Street
Carnaby Street might be world famous, but its parallel sibling is 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. That said, the handsome Victorian exterior does draw its fair share of tourists, seeking an experience of the authentic British pub. They could do a lot worse than this place, well stocked for a Greene King pub. Look out for the hanging sign, which again shows two men carrying a lady in a sedan chair.
The Blue Posts, 6 Bennet Street
And so we reach the last Posts. Another variation on the hanging sign awaits us. This is the best yet for bollard fans, with the blue markers placed centre of the scene. This pub has the distinction of being both the newest and oldest Blue Posts. A pub of that name has stood here since 1667, and the previous version once housed a sedan chair in its entrance. The current building, however, is only a few years old. The rebuild has added some character to what was once a bland, forgettable place. A faux-Georgian ceiling (almost blue in hue) and smart decor provide a bright, airy feel.
By this point in the pub crawl, five drinks in, you might want to order your own sedan chair, or at least an Uber, to get yourself home.
A version of this article appears in Londonist Drinks, our book about pubs, bars and the history of drinking in the capital. (buying via this link will help support our site with a small commission)