It is not the oldest surviving pub in London, but it is the most attractive and the most indicative of its period, with rambling passageways, nooks and crannies, and an atmosphere that reeks of a Dickensian world. Countless writers have sat in its corners, nursing their favourite tipple, among them Wodehouse, Yeats, Conan Doyle, Dickens and Mark Twain.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese London
Built after the great fire of London in 1668, frequented by writers down the centuries, the pub still attracts writers and visitors from all over the world.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London’s Fleet Street is a pub to which every visitor to the city should pay at least one visit. It’s one of the oldest pubs in London, rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666, and it occupies a labyrinth of random rooms connected by crooked stairways and odd jumbled passageways.
There has been a pub at this location since 1538 and although there are several older pubs which have survived, like the Tipperary on the other side of Fleet Street which survived the fire because it was made of stone, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese continues to attract tourists who love it for its atmosphere. It is so of another world and another century, and its literary connections make it a haven for those who have an affinity with books and their authors.
The entrance is in a narrow alley by the side of the pub and from the outside the place looks small, but this is deceptive for once inside there are numerous bars, rooms upstairs and downstairs, and great, open fireplaces in winter.
Re-built in 1668, it no longer has its original wainscoting. Some of the interior wood panelling dates from the nineteenth century, some is older, but no one is quite sure which parts are original. Upstairs, the lighting is dim, but this adds atmosphere to the place and I presume is kept deliberately so, to enhance the feeling of age, but if you’re eating there, a small torch with which to read the menu might be useful.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese sign with St. Paul's, London
There are plaques on the wall detailing the many literary figures who patronised the pub over the centuries. Chief among these, and the most famous, is Charles Dickens who is known to have been a frequent visitor. Mark Twain, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conon Doye, P.G. Wodehouse and Dr. Johnson (who lived just down the street at 17, Gough Square), are all said to have been regular visitors.
Reference to the pub can be found in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities when Sidney Carton invites Charles Darnay to dine there (after his acquittal), and leads him from Fleet Street “up a covered alleyway into a tavern ….. where Charles Darnay was soon recruiting his strength with a good plain dinner and good wine”. The interior of the pub is still quite dark and it is easy to imagine it filled with a cast of characters from Dickens’ novels.
Wodehouse mentions the pub by name in some of his books, The Dynamiter (1885) being one, but the writer himself often visited the place. In one letter he wrote, "Yesterday, I looked in at the Garrick at lunchtime, took one glance of loathing at the mob, and went off to lunch by myself at the Cheshire Cheese”.
Tales from Ye Olde Cheshire Cat
Polly the Parrot
For around 40 years, an African grey parrot named Polly lived on the premies. Polly was both famous and loved, so much so that on its death in 1926, it is said that around 200 newspapers across the world wrote an obituary.
A customer there, on the day I visited, assured me that this was the firs pub in London to serve whiskey, but I have yet to have this confirmed. Still, it’s a nice touch to put alongside the name Ye Olde Cheshire Cat and the other cat, Hodge, the treasured companion of Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose daily meal of oysters (then a cheap food) Johnson himself bought from the nearby fish market.
The Real Ales of Olde England
If you are a fan of good real ales, then Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has an excellent list of beers to keep you happy, which you can enjoy drinking in nooks and crannies in rooms up and downstairs. Quite Dickensian, in fact. The ground floor has a restaurant, called a chophouse in deference to the period in which the pub was making history, so good food is also the order of the day.