Of our four days in London, the most memorable for my son, Tristan, and I would have to be our pub crawl up Fleet Street with my two friends. For Tristan, being only 18, this was a new experience. I’ve never hidden alcohol from my son, and he has never abused my household bar. I have long set out to teach him to be responsible when drinking–don’t drive, know when to stop, don’t binge, etc.
So my friends, Dee & CC, planned with me to make this run as memorable as possible. We picked four historic pubs that had been built/rebuilt in the aftermath of the Great Fire: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Tipperary, Old Bell Tavern, and Punch Tavern. We set out to have one drink at each place. As it turned out, each of these stops presented memorable moments for us.
We started at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, rebuilt in 1667 (there have been inns and taverns at the site since the 1200s), winding our ways through the small dark rooms, each decorated with a different theme, to the very back of establishment where we ponied up at a tall table. Tristan and I ordered pints of cider while Dee & CC both picked ales. We talked about our day’s adventures at the Tower of London and other historic sites throughout the city, mapping our remaining time in town. As for the atmosphere, it felt old. It felt like we were in the Prancing Pony in Bree rather than a living, breathing, modern city. We were truly transported back in time. CC disliked the lack of natural light (there are no windows in the dark rooms), so we headed across the street to The Tipperary, an Irish Pub in the heart of London.
The bones of The Tipperary also date back to 1667, though much has been altered in the intervening years. While here, we kicked it up a notch, with each of us ordering Jameson and ginger ale–except my son, who wanted to try his hand at this Irish whiskey on the rocks. He has since said he will add the ginger ale in the future, as the world started to feel a little funny about this point.
Needless to say, we decided that food was in order on our next stop. So at The Old Bell Tavern, we ordered meat pies and mushy peas. We giggled about eating meat pies on Fleet Street by querying whether Mrs. Lovett had baked them. The pies were delicious though. We definitely remembered the pies more than the cider at this spot. And Tristan began to make a few local acquaintances who were super nice to us, feeding us information–especially since we looked like the tourists we were.
After filling our bellies with the Bell’s meat pies, we wended our way back toward our hotel to make one last stop at Punch Tavern. The inside of this tavern was dark, but more open than the others. It had a more modern vibe on the inside playing top pop and dance music. The tavern does date back to the mid 1600s (it was mentioned in Samuel Pepys diaries), but was updated in the 1890s to become a gin palace–the fancy way of saying the bar specializes in gin. It’s kept its upscale “palace” decor and theme. Hence, The Punch was packed with millennials. We couldn’t find a place to sit, so we found ourselves in the entryway playing with the games stashed on a small shelf. We ended our crawl by splitting a Sloe Gin Fizz, playing Jenga, and perusing the Punch and Judy art predominantly featured throughout the entryway.
Tristan loved that each spot we visited featured a different flavor for London’s historic offerings (two of our stops were featured on CNN’s list of Oldest, Greatest Pubs). Though he switched to water by the time we hit The Old Bell (all my years of advice payed off), he was glad that he could be a full-fledged adult instead of the pseudo-adult that U.S. law allows him to be. He could walk into the pubs, make his own order, and feel comfortable in his skin. Tristan liked London not because he could drink, but because he could move freely as an adult. And I liked London because I learned that my son would be a responsible drinker, even when presented with the opportunity to be irresponsible.
We have both said we wish to go back to London, as there is so much more to see. Maybe next time we will hit other historic pubs like the The Ship & Shovell or The Lamb & Flag (a favorite of Charles Dickens’), or attempt the Circle Line Pub Crawl–with half pints as I’m a little too lightweight for something so hardcore. Needless to say, gastropubs and high end bars aren’t my scene. I’d rather find a local watering hole and enjoy the pulse of the city around me. On a return visit, I’d like to experience the local scene a little more. So here goes another 5 years of planning for a return visit.
To be continued…