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With a literary history spanning over 1000 years, the list of world famous novelists, poets and playwrights who called London home is seemingly endless. There are literary connections around every corner, if you know where to look, and no matter which neighbourhood you’re in you’re sure to find a piece of literary history. Of course, the city’s iconic writers must have enjoyed a drink somewhere, and that’s where our guide to London’s literary pubs comes in! So go on, walk in the footsteps of Dickens and Wilde, drink in the same pubs they once called their locals and imagine your favourite author scribbling away at the bar or discussing the affairs of the day over a pint. Here are the 10 pubs any literature lover can't miss visiting in London!
Westminster’s The Marquis of Granby certainly has a colourful history that’s peppered with a wild anecdote or two, and it’s list of proprietors include more than a few famous names. Named for the 18th century Marquis who will be remembered for rewarding his troops with money from his own pocket, the pub went on to be a favourite of T.S Eliot and Dylan Thomas. Virginia Woolf certainly had a lot to say about Eliot in her diary, but we prefer to focus on his poetry, whilst Thomas was said to come here with the sole purpose of picking fights with guardsmen!
2 Rathbone St, Fitzrovia, W1T 1NR
The historic Seven Dials area of Covent Garden was famously known for ‘prose, poetry, prostitutes and petty crime’, but the Duke of York pub also bore witness to notorious razor gang fights. One of these brutal ordeals was endured by Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange, when a local crime family destroyed the pub as he, his wife and other drinkers could only look on. This violence was said to have been the inspiration for his iconic novel, but thankfully these days the pub is a much quieter affair. The current Duke of York even gave permission for his portrait to be used on their sign!
47 Rathbone St, Fitzrovia, W1T 1NW
Of all of London’s neighbourhoods, Bloomsbury has long been the most associated with arts and literature, and to this day continues to nurture its literary heritage. As well as paying homage to the homes of literary greats like Virginia Woolf and Dickens who once lived in the area, you can enjoy a drink in the same pub which was long frequented by the influential set of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury set. The interior is strikingly Victiorian, with a horse-shoe shaped bar, a polyphon (the earlier version of a grammar phone) and the screens which were known as ‘snob screens’ still in place! You could be sitting in the same seat as where Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf or Charles Dickens once sat!
94 Lamb's Conduit St, Bloomsbury, WC1N 3LZ
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has possibly the most impressive list of literary heavyweights on its list of patrons of any London pub. Anyone and everyone has drunk within its labyrinthine interior since its beginnings in the 1530’s including Dickens, Samuel Johnson, P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Samuel Pepeys and Arthur Conan Doyle who even used the pub as the setting for one of his Sherlockian tales, The Red Headed League. The original pub was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but was quickly rebuilt in 1667 and today is a Grade II listed building. Cosy up in one of its nooks and crannies, get lost in its winding passages any enjoy the lack of phone reception as you raise a glass to the long line of literary greats who passed through the doors.
145 Fleet St, EC4A 2BU
In the heart of Soho on Greek Street you’ll find the Pillars of Hercules, a watering hole dating back to the 1730’s (although as with many London pubs, the existing building was added later). Often frequented by Dickens, it even made it into the pages of A Tale of Two Cities under its own name! To return the favour, the road next to the pub was named Manette Street, after the novel’s fictional Dr Manette. To this day, it draws London’s literary crowd through its doors and in recent years has seen Ian McEwan and Julian Barns pop for a drink or two, whilst the writer and critic Clive James titled a collection of literary criticism after the bar after having written many of his essays perched at the bar.
7 Greek St, Soho, W1D 4DF
Both Dickens and Shakespeare were known to frequent The George Inn since it opened its doors in 1540, and you can still see why it’s oak beams, open fireplaces and long galleries would have been a draw. During the Victorian period, the inn was also home to a coffee house which makes it into the pages of Little Dorrit and was immortalised as fiction in Our Mutual Friend. And as far as literary landmarks in the city go, this watering hole is particularly special as it’s the only galleried coaching inn still standing in London today. When Shakespeare was penning his masterpieces, galleried inns were used for staging Elizabethan theatre productions; the cast would stand on a platform in the centre of the coaching yard, with the audience surrounding them whilst those wanting a better view and with money to spend would watch from the galleries.
The George Inn Yard, 77 Borough High St, SE1 1NH
The Fitzroy Tavern is actually something of a local institution, and is the reason behind the name of its neighbourhood, Fitzrovia. With Bloomsbury as it’s next door district, this pub is in the heart of the city’s Artists’ Quarter, and like Bloomsbury was known to be a meeting place for writers, artists and intellectuals throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. Amongst the regulars were George Orwell and Dylan Thomas, and you can grab a drink and head downstairs to the aptly named Writers and Artists Bar where their portraits hang in pride of place on the walls.
16 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, W1T 2LY
Of all of the notable patrons of the Dog and Duck, a Grade II listed watering hole in Soho, the most famous is surely George Orwell. Within its lavish Victorian interior which is still complete with original features, the novelist of Animal Farm and 1984 often stopped by for a pint - and happily their ale selection is as good today as it ever was. But it’s not only Orwell who was a regular, John Constable and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were also known to frequent this historic pub on a regular basis, and if that wasn’t enough history we’ll add that the site was originally the home of the Duke of Monmouth, although sadly the original 1734 building was replaced in 1897.
18 Bateman St, Soho, W1D 3AJ
A Covent Garden institution, the Lamb and Flag holds Charles Dickens (hardly a huge surprise) as one of its patrons, as well as the renowned 17th century poet John Dryden. One of the most historic spots in the area, this watering hole that’s nestled away along an unassuming mews was once where notorious bare knuckle fighting took place. It also happens that the aforementioned John Dryden was almost murdered - although he lived to tell the tale! In honour or in consolation, the upstairs room of the pub which is reached by a narrow staircase was named after him.
33 Rose St, WC2E 9EB
It seems that Dickens wasn’t keen on the idea of settling on just one local. If stopping by for a drink in The Grapes wasn’t enough, it’s even said that the opening lines of Our Mutual Friend was inspired by it: “A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.” Whilst this description might not be enough to make you want to rush through the doors, the fact that it also features in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Arthur Conan Doyle does in his Sherlock stories very well might. And if that wasn’t enough, this spot is now owned by Sir Ian McKellen, so you never know who you might run in to.
76 Narrow St, Poplar, E14 8BP
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