Liquid History


At first glance, John Warland’s ‘Liquid History’ looks a tad undernourished. This pub crawl in a book is a handsome little hardback filled with scrappy pen sketches and only seems to feature a handful of over-familiar boozers. Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, check. The Grenadier, check. the horrendously overprice George Inn, check. But dig a little deeper and there are real gems to discover here – the kind which are only familiar to born Londoners.

The George is a former coffee house that Samuel Johnson is supposed to have used as a postal address. It’s near Temple tube so that means your crawl can incorporate The Seven Stars and the Edgar Wallace. The Lyric hides in plain sight in Soho. I worked around the corner from it for three decades and never once set foot inside it. Its connection to body snatching and strippers has not passed unnoticed by Mr Warland.

There are plenty of nicely offbeat pubs here, like the Tipperary, an Irish pub squashed into an unusually narrow space which was built from monastery stones and subsequently survived the Great Fire of 1666. The Jamaica Wine House is known as the Jampot and is almost impossible to find in the City’s maze of alleyways. The Holborn Whippet is a newbie on the corner of Sicilian Avenue, but feels as if it opened in the 1920s and has quickly established itself as a great pub.

‘Liquid History’ is a top-notch pub crawl of a book you could keep with you as a trusted guide. I’ve tested it out on a few favourites and it’s been a delight to rediscover them. For years, grubby-fingered developers worked with breweries to buy out their ‘unproductive’ pubs, and right now the British boozer faces its biggest-ever threats. The hollowing out of cities as workers stay home has killed whole areas, and the young prefer not to risk the social interaction demanded by a public house, perhaps not spotting the clue in its name.

Hopefully this book will bring some new visitors, although by focussing so much on the Square Mile it’s perhaps aimed more at returning workers. The capital’s great social pubs could easily fill a second volume – if any of them survive the coming year.

32 comments on “Liquid History”

  1. Davem says:

    Used to love drinking at the Jampot many years ago … terrific pub although no idea what it is like these days

  2. Paul+C says:

    Wandering around London I stumbled across two marvellous pubs : The Champion in Fitzrovia which has large stained glass windows of Victorian heroes which are magnificent especially with the sun streaming through and The Salisbury in Covent Garden which has an opulent gin palace interior. Both are worth a visit.

  3. admin says:

    Both in their time legendary gay pubs, Paul!

  4. Helen+Martin says:

    Admin, is that a warning (as it would have been in my youth) or a recommendation? We’ve had very few pubs in our cities – hotel “beverage rooms” which were just places to drink beer after beer. Don’t move around the place, just sit and drink. We’ve only acquired a few pubs in the last 40 years or so and now they’re going bankrupt due to covid restrictions. The Storm Crow, a three site chain, is now down to one and gasping. If you want the frozen Han Solo, they have it and it’s for sale at, I think, $5000 Canadian. That was a friendly place. Our pubs are so distant (who wants a liquor outlet in their neighbourhood) that you have to drive and of course you can’t drive if you’ve been drinking. Perhaps we’ll turn them into coffee houses.

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    I happen to be reading ‘The Word Child’ from the 12th greatest British writer (according to ‘The Times’) since 1945, which would be Dame Iris Murdoch. And Lo and behold a bit of London liquid history poked up its unsteady head. That would be Underground pubs. ‘A Hole in the Wall,’ the former pub on the westbound platform at Sloane Square station is a featured location in the novel as is another at Liverpool Station. Apparently at one time there were something like 30 tube tippling spots — most in ticketing halls but others like Sloane Square, Liverpool and Victoria on the clockwise platforms.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    Sorry. That should be ‘A Word Child’ by Iris Murdoch. ‘There is many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ (or brain and forefinger) — in keeping with the subject at hand.

  7. Paul+C says:

    Talking of pubs (as I often am), the best book I know set in a London pub is ‘20,000 Streets under the Sky’ a trilogy of novels (1929 – 34) by Patrick Hamilton which is well worth reading. It’s even better than his celebrated ‘Hangover Square’.

    Are there any others ?

  8. admin says:

    Patrick Hamilton is one of the forgotten great London writers, along with Alexander Baron, several of whose books are set in London boozers.

  9. Alan R says:

    One of Cape Town’s oldest pubs is the Fireman’s Arms although as it opened in 1864 it remains a baby when compared to the fantastic great old pubs of London. I found it to be of great interest that in the 80s, although only whites were allowed in due to apartheid laws, it also did not allow women into the pub. A men-only pub (a white-men only pub to be correct). A challenge those of us working at BBDO close-by at the time, could not resist. So …… the smallest guy in the agency brought a suit from home, a trilby and a tie and shirt and a very willing female media buyer (any excuse for a free drink – you know Media) was dressed up, had her name changed to Dave, dropped her voice a pitch and accompanied the usual rowdy creatives and production staff to the “Fireman’s” for lunch. The disguise only lasted a few minutes as we sent her up to buy the first round and her lipstick gave her away, but the owner had a good laugh and we all, including Dave, drank the afternoon away – as was usual for any decent ad agency in the 80s.

  10. Helen+Martin says:

    Drinking establishments in this area were divided between “Men” and “Ladies and Escorts” until about 40 years ago. I don’t know if a woman escorted by another woman would have been acceptable. Women alone were assumed to be prostitutes looking for customers. Gay males were the only ones with an advantage.

  11. Chandon says:

    Good point about “The Salisbury”. From memory, there are some great scenes shot in “The Salisbury” in the Dirk Bogarde 1961 film “Victim”. The interior has hardly changed in 60 years.

  12. Andrew+Holme says:

    The back bar of ‘The King’s Arms’ in Oxford only allowed the admittance of women in 1973. It is still known today as ‘the office’.

  13. jan says:

    whats happening with the poor Mitre just tucked away off of Hatton Garden?

    i think the general plan was to turn it into a restaurant but it seems to have fallen victim to the lack of folk after Covid. Unless you know any better Chris? its a lovely place the Mitre a grand little pub with great history

    i am working pretty much full time at present – and having great kindle difficulties! i will e mail properly when i can hope all is going ok jan

  14. Jo W says:

    On the whole, I’d rather be on a pub crawl than reading about it. Cheers all!

  15. Wayne Mook says:

    I need to do a proper pub crawl round Manchester in the future. A lot of pubs have gone but with the gentrification of the north side of Manchester city centre ( all of it seems to be called the Northern quarter but it’s bigger than that.) The Joseph Holt’s houses still seem OK, but the local Asda no longer stocks Holts.

    For some reason I was getting errors in trying to post the other day. Here’s hoping it works today.


  16. Helen+Martin says:

    Jan’s post should be a warning as to the current health care situation. I know we have had a terrible rush on emergency response teams because the hospitals have had a backup in admittance and it sounds as if you’re having staffing shortages, too. We’ve had some indicators of potential slowdowns of cases, though. Now if only we could have a slowdown in the rain – perhaps by Friday.

  17. Roger says:

    Immediately estate agents call an area a “quarter” you know it’s going to be gentrified and trendified with extreme prejudice, Wayne Mook.

  18. Jan says:

    To be honest Helen I am working full time rather than part time but not doing much overtime over and above full time hours yet ! Half my trouble has been a lack of internet signal, I got in from work tonight late on to find the signal working very well first time in weeks am proper chuffed.

  19. Helen+Martin says:

    Good luck with a continuous signal, Jan.

  20. David+Ronaldson says:

    I used to regularly drink in the Champion and The Salisbury without knowing they were Gay . Keith Waterhouse mentions the Salisbury often in his memoirs; an Agents’ pub. I used to take my fiance to the Admiral Duncan on the grounds that it was ruggedly heterosexual and masculine compared with Comptons across the road. I once stumbled upon the William IV in Hampstead with two fellow heavily-built Rugby players: we had a great night ( yes, we stayed). Guys kept putting their heads into our booth to say “Hi” and the tiny Welsh barman was a Rugby fan.

  21. Wayne Mook says:

    Patrick Hamilton seems to get a boost very so often, the term Gaslighting taken from the film based on his works has given him a boost again. All his books and even screen plays of his work seem to be in print or as e-books. Rope, Gaslight and Hangover Square

    Roger – as to the Northern Quarter in Manchester, yes it has been gentrified but the place had almost died at one point, it became a grim miserable place and now there are more bars and pubs.


  22. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Last to the party, as is my wont, but I finally began London Bridges Falling Down, and am so happy to be in Fowler’s London again. As ever, thank you!

  23. Nigel Robinson says:

    I wasn’t aware that the Fitzrovia Champion (which is a lovely pub) was ever gay but considering the loucheness of the area at the time, I’m hardly surprised. The Salisbury, which remains a beautiful pub and well worth a visit, would never acknowledge itself as “gay” but admitted to having a “theatrical” clientele (which was more or less the same thing back in the 80s and for decades before). It was rammed every night with friendly gentlemen who wanted to get to know me for some reason. The girls behind the bar were delightful (possibly because they knew they were not going to get hit on by the punters) but some of the bar boys had a bit of an attitude towards their gay clientele. When the Black Horse pub across the road (on the corner where the hotel is now) turned its underused basement gay and renamed it Brief Encounter everyone just decamped en masse from the Salisbury and never came back. Still a beautiful pub and the bar staff are great now.

  24. admin says:

    Sorry, I meant the Champion above Hyde Park, although there was a gay pub in Fitzrovia. The line between gay and merely theatrical was sometimes hard to discern. A line crossed (nay, trampled upon) by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick.

  25. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, you say. Well, of course, that raises the whole matter of ‘polari,’ the colorful ‘underground’ language they helped introduce to the British public and which could be an entire blog post by itself.

  26. Helen+Martin says:

    I finally looked up “gaslighting” which was never explained and which I did not think of as a researchable word. So that is confusion sorted but now I’m up against “polari” in spite of being very familiar with Kenneth Williams. Alright, into the depths I go.

  27. Ian Luck says:

    Paul Baker’s brilliant book ‘Fabulosa!’, the history of Polari is well worth reading. And yes, ‘Julian and Sandy’ did get me interested, although my late father did use the odd Polari word here and there in conversation – words like ‘lallies’, and ‘trolling’, and ‘slap’ (legs; to walk in a mincing fashion; make-up).mind you, most of his speech when on the phone to friends or workmates, was indecipherable to me. Slang, technical terminology, formed a large part, with the occasional Welsh or Yiddish word thrown in for good measure. He was Welsh, and when he lived in East London, in the early 1950’s he was friends with a lot of Jewish people.

  28. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – ‘Fabulosa’ will tell you all you need to know. It’s a really well researched and written’s ISBN is: 9781789142945
    Hope that helps.

  29. David+Ronaldson says:

    Being a solitary type, prone to reading books in pubs, Polari occasionally helped me out in my late teens and 20s when approached by Gay older men,
    “Really?” I’d ask. “Me lallies ain’t bad, but have you copped a proper gander at this eek?”

  30. Paul+C says:

    Hope they offered you a vera, David

  31. David+Ronaldson says:

    Paul, I wasn’t haggling….

  32. Stu-I-Am says:

    Just to make certain I flog this whole Polari business I more or less introduced above to death, here is a brief lexicon for those looking for a new secret vocabulary, adopted not only by primarily urban male gay communities in the ’90s (but not lesbian communities) but in performing arts circles as well. It comes from the site ‘World Wide Words’ which also provides a quick history of the colourful cant.

    batt = shoe; bevvy = drink (or possibly an abbreviation of beverage, or both); bijou = small; bimbo = dupe, sucker; bona = good; camp = excessive or showy or affecting mannerisms of the opposite sex; charper = to search (leading to charpering omi = policeman); dolly = nice or pleasant; dona = woman (hence the Australian slang word donah); drag = clothes (and so possibly via the gay world to the informal but widespread use meaning to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex); eek = face; fantabulosa = excellent; feele = child (hence feely omi = a young man, sometimes specifically an underaged young man); lally = leg; lattie = house, lodgings; leucoddy = body; naph = bad (quite possibly the origin of the current British English slang term naff); nante = none or nothing; ogle = eye (hence ogleriah = eyelash); omi = man; omi-palone = homosexual; palare = talk; palone; woman; riah = hair (possibly back-slang); tosheroon = half a crown (two shillings and sixpence), possibly a much-corrupted form of the Italian mezzo caroon; troll, = walk, wander; vada = look; walloper = dancer; zhoosh = fix, tidy. And perhaps you might like to be able to count to ten in Polari: una, duey, trey, quater, chinker, sey, setter, otto, nobber, dacha.

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