When I prepared for the London trip, I asked a few people who had been there recently, or who had spent a lot of time there, or had read a lot about it to give me their opinions of Things Not To Miss. I went to many of them, and they were all completely delightful– from the British Museum to Hampton Court to just walking along the Thames for an afternoon.
This isn’t about that stuff.
One of the people I asked was my old friend Tanner, who’s gone a few times in the last decade or so, and he had this to say:
I would highly recommend taking an afternoon to amble down Fleet Street, hitting pubs. If you start at St. Paul’s and head west, you can convince yourself that you’re not just hitting pubs, but also seeing historic London. Like The Old Bell Tavern, a Christopher Wren built pub. Then The Old Bank of England, which was the building under which the tunnel exists that The Butcher of Fleet Street used to move bodies from the Barber Shop to the Pie Shop. And The Old Cock, that Samuel Pepys wrote about. Then on to the Old Cheshire Cheese, and read the articles on the wall about the death of their famous Swearing Parrot. From there, you just a block or two from the Thames, and the Temple station. Or, continue down the Strand, and check out King’s College ‘n’ shit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, how could I not do that?
I came at it from the opposite direction– I started West and headed East, basically. The first place I saw was this one:
“Hot shit!” I thought to myself. “That’s one of the places that came highly recommended from Tanner!”
Rob and I went in and each got a pint. “Ah, wow, the sense of history,” I thought to myself. “Just imagine! I’m in a place that was built in 1538 and rebuilt in 1666 after the great fire! How amazing!” I sipped my beer. I looked around. “This doesn’t look like it was built in 1538 and rebuilt in 1666,” I thought. “It looks like it was built in the 1980s. Oh, shit.”
Sure enough. Less than half a mile away from Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another bar had set up shop… and called itself The Cheshire Cheese. I immediately realized that I, a tourist, had just been bilked out of beer money by a bar that had been built and designed solely to bilk tourists. Fuck. What a rube I am!
At least I got two beers out of it.
I think we stopped somewhere else for a beer, but now I can’t remember and at some point taking beautiful pictures became secondary to drinking.
Then, down the street to the Old Bell Tavern, which had signs proudly proclaiming its allegiance with Christopher Wren. More beer! Tried to order food, but there was a leak in the kitchen. No food. More beer. Leaving this bar, we were confronted with a bustling mob of foot traffic, so we dodged sideways, planning to head down a side street.
One of the things that I love about London is the vast and amazing history. America has about four centuries of history that we’ve been taught about, but we don’t have the sense of a city being built on the ruins of itself for a thousand years plus.
While ducking down the side street, we stepped into a beautiful courtyard, and basically walked for a half mile in this weird, vacant, beautiful agglomeration of buildings and churches and topiary.
It was glorious.
Then, we found the real Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Hot damn, that is what history feels like. The Old Bell was nice, but it had been overhauled and modernized. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese had too, a bit, but it still was what I imagined a real old-school pub would be like– tiny ceilings to accommodate the apparently much-shorter people of half a millennia ago. Tiny windy corridors. Stairs leading to weird dungeon-y rooms.
It was fantastic.
By this time, with all the beer and whatnot, we were pretty hungry, but the Old Bank of England was closed. I don’t rightly remember what the name of the bar was that we stumbled into, but it was another slice of history. I hadn’t had fish and chips yet, so I got those.
There’s nothing quite like eating incredible crispy fish and steaming chips (and even the mushy peas) served to you in a pub that is older than America. Historical fish and chips, ladies and gentlemen.
Except historically-accurate chips are actually shaped like chips, and not fucking french fries.