As we were heading out to see a few historic pubs after our very late lunch at Bill’s, I saw the advertisement below on the wall of the Old Street tube station.
I had been unaware of this British comedy series in which the actors literally imbibe and then act out or tell stories from history.
I offer no editorial on the series having not seen it. But in London, so many ancient pubs remain in operation, they often are sites of historic significance. As pubs continue to be gathering places, you can certainly understand how people may have gathered to form and fulfill ideas of great import, as well as of no import whatsoever.
The first pub on our agenda was the Freemason Arms, which is near the Covent Garden tube stop. This is the pub in which footballing men gathered in 1863 and formed the Football Association (FA), the governing body of the sport in England. The early task of the FA was to form laws of the game. Prior to formation, football was played applying a variety of rules. The FA adopted rules similar to the Cambridge rules, whereby handling the ball was not allowed. A splinter group decided not to conform with these rules and formed the Rugby Football Union instead, a splinter that ultimately produced rugby.
Interestingly, when we arrived at the Freemason Arms, the sport that was captivating the gathered masses was a rugby match between Wales and Scotland. We ordered a Spitfire Gold beer; my husband had the pint, and me something tinier. I’ve not watched much rugby in my life, and I found it quite enjoyable although I had little understanding of what exactly was going on. When we arrived, Scotland were leading, but Wales had a period of success and went ahead, much to the joy of many in the pub. Scotland had some small success near the end of the match, which produced mirth from a much smaller number in the crowd. Unamused, one of the Wales supporters shouted, “F*** off!”
Wales hung on to win the game, and we headed to our next destination, Gordon’s Wine Bar. Gordon’s is the oldest wine bar in London, founded in 1890, a few decades after the FA formation meetings across town. It is located near the Embankment tube stop, in the same building where Samuel Pepys lived in the 1600s and where Rudyard Kipling produced his work, The Light that Failed. Kipling is known to have done some work in the wine bar parlor. Gordon’s was founded by Arthur “Staff” Gordon, but currently owned by Wendy Gordon, no relation to the original owner.
We walked through, unable to find a table or even a place to stand. Seating is in a cavelike area that was the original wine cellar. Low ceilings and candlelight made for a cozy atmosphere. There was also seating under an awning in a narrow space outside the bar. Although it was a raw and rainy evening, every seat was taken there as well. We tried again on the following afternoon with similar results. Gordon’s appears to be the kind of place where there is possibly no time to go in which it is not busy. We’ll keep trying.
Last, we visited the Tollington Arms, quite a walk from the Holloway tube stop, but only a few blocks from the Emirates. This building in which the pub is housed may well have historical significance, but we don’t know what that would be. Tollington Arms is a relatively new-looking pub in an old building and has zero intrinsic charm. It is famous as a current gathering place for Arsenal fans on match day. We have been by on match day when people are queued out the door, waiting for people to leave so they can come in. They are packed inside the pub and they are packed in the yard outside the pub, no matter the weather. Only Arsenal fans are allowed in on match day, and they are required to have tickets for the match in hand. This visit was the evening before the match when it was relatively empty.
We ordered an Abbott Ale at the bar, and then we noticed a seemingly separate place to order food. Specifically Thai food, which seemed odd in a pub. We shrugged and ordered Pad Thai and Fried Rice for a late dinner. The food was delivered extremely slowly considering how quiet it was in the pub, but as my husband said, “it exceeded expectations.” Quite delicious, reasonably priced, and we ate every bit.
We headed back to the Hoxton, where the lobby had been transformed into a hopping nightclub. We took the elevator away from the throbbing music. Up on the third floor it was silent as a tomb. We slept very well.