Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

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Black Friar shines a white light onto a great pub – one of London’s finest

with 2 comments


In world of the weirdly, weird, this pub is different.

It starts with the outside – the building looks like a mini version of New York’s famed flatiron skyscraper – while part, of the exterior is seriously down at heel, any visitor should take a look up, as above the utilitarian door is an ornate clock and a statue of a jolly monk, which only hints at the drama that lies in wait inside.

From 1880 to 1910 a generation of writers, designers and architects were influenced by the Arts And Crafts movement, which was instigated by artist and socialist William Morris in the 1860s. Using a mediaeval style of decoration it advocated craftsmanship and truth to materials. The style has much in common with its contemporary art nouveau and it played a role in the founding of Bauhaus and modernism.

The narrow end of the pub, somewhat dark pub, assumes a pseudo baronial hall which passes on to a sumptuous and intimate room at the back. Many thought that the Art and Craft movement was somewhat prosaic but the Black Friar is the cure. Friezes in copper, marble and plaster show monks enjoying themselves. One is about to boil and egg, some are singing others collecting fish and eels to eat on meatless days. Above are signs containing aphorisms such as “finery is foolery”; don’t advertise, or tell a gossip”. Other motifs say “haste is slow”, “industry is all” and a “good thing is soon snatched up”.

There are more than 50 different types of marble employed in the building, which with its stylised light fittings, furniture and wood carvings means that it is far more than a just a pub. Its interior is unique, and deserves to be preserved. It is hard to believe that in the 1960s the pub, because of its prime location, faced being demolished and replaced by an anonymous office block.

The pub’s décor is an elaborate fanciful, joke. A sign above the bar suggests that this is the place, where the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Papal Legate and Henry VIII a met to discuss Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Perhaps they did, the site of the pub was a Dominican friary between 1279 to the Reformation in 1539 – but such an assignation would have surely made the jolly monks scowl.

The pub’s design might be an elaborate joke, but the beers are not. This busy, bustling pub, run by the excellent Nicholson’s, has a good range of real ales many from the UK’s new wave of imaginative brewers.

The Black Friar

174 Queen Victoria St, EC4V 4EG

Tim Hampson has written about this pub in his books London’s Riverside Pubs and London’s Best Pubs, both published by New Holland.

Written by timhampson

March 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I think it’s a great building, but, oddly, Ian Nairn didn’t much like it: ‘…it is tainted with a particularly musty imagination which has clouded the space like a bad pint of bitter.’ (Nairn’s London, 1966.)


    March 29, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    • Harsh words! As Iain Nairn was an opponent of the ordinary I am surprised. But then he did like the Bull Ring in Birmingham a place I knew well.
      As it was under threat of demolition in the1960s perhaps it was less welcoming then. I went there on Wednesday, it was busy, vibrant and great fun.


      March 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm

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