Drinking with Dickens


One of my goals while I was in London was to have a pint at the oldest pub in London. This turned out to be a nontrivial activity, first of all because records weren’t really kept all that long ago and then the London fire of 1666 pretty much wiped out a good chunk of the potential contenders.

With no clear winner, I went with the consensus pick, which is Ye Old Chesire Cheese, located on Fleet Street, which is itself a historically notable landmark. It dates back to 1538. The was built on top of a Carmelite monastery which dates back to the 13th century. The pub did burn down in 1666, but it was re-built in the same spot.

Allegedly Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, and P.G. Wodehouse all were regulars here. A couple of them even mention / refer to the pub in some of their writings. In fact, in trying to find it, I stumbled upon Samuel Johnson’s house which is located barely a block away.

It is accessible from a small, dark, narrow alley. Next to the entrance is the list of monarchs that have ruled England since it’s been open.

You go in and immediately it looks extremely small. There is a tiny bar off to the right as you enter and the dining room is on the left. However, if you continue moving forward, you’ll eventually come to a stairway, which leads to a veritable warren of room.

The staircase is basically designed for a hobbit. There are signs warning you to duck your head, but they are scarcely necessary since an average sized person would probably hit his chin going down the stairs if not careful.

In the lower levels, there are no windows, so by necessity the rooms are all pretty dark. Rooms are framed by archways that in theory date back to the 13th century monastery. Looking at the arches, that seems very feasible. The rooms aren’t heated; apparently in the winter each room will be lit and heated by fire.  I was there in the summer, so there was no need.

With my pint in my hand, surveying the wooden tables, the low ceilings, the narrow stairway, and the ancient arches, I can certainly believe that I’d just been transported back to the 17th century.


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