In the heart of one of the city’s tourist hotspots, is one of my favourite London pubs, The Museum Tavern.
There are some pubs, and I think it’s to do with the shape and height of the windows, that are just all London. You could be spirited in blindfold, no idea where you were or how you got there, and something of the light, the height of the bar around you, the sunlight from the tall glass, and you’d guess London first time.
There are lots of classic London pubs like this, and you’d almost think to begin with that because of its location the Museum Tavern is a replica tourist place, but it isn’t. It’s just an old Bloomsbury boozer that happens to be just across the street from one of the greatest museums in the world: The British Museum.
In fact, it happens to have been there, in much the same shape, since the middle of the nineteenth century. “Despite the removal of partitions that divided Victorian drinkers,” says the website, “many original features remain, like much of the carved wooden fittings, etched and cut glass outer windows and some coloured leaded-glass detail.”
As the pub lore proudly states, Arthur Conan Doyle went there, as did JB Priestley, and that minor political thinker, Karl Marx. The place even used to be called The Dog & Duck. It’s intoxicating to imagine what it must have been like, what the Tavern would have been like – to imagine finishing a porter in 1900, say, and walking across the road to see the Museum …
Inside, like some set from Ripper Street, it’s proper old London, and comes into its own at night, when the streets go dark. Last time I was there it was blistering sunshine, so it was early evening and chilled lagers. But I’ve been there in wintertime, supping pumphouse ales or a stout, and watching great piles of curvy fish and chips heading to other tables, or giant steak pies. They do the usual roasts, and burgers and wraps – the menu is pretty well as pinned as the place. Last time I ate there, I just had a big bowl of sausage, mash and gravy. All the better to see you with, as they say.
If you’ve been to the Museum and fancy a pint it can admittedly be off-putting peeping in, because most times of the year the place is absolutely rammed. But when you can, if it’s quieter, nip in there. On a hot day, a cool lager with bubbles of condensation is good held to the boiling forehead, then glugged like a Viking. In the winter, there’s more than something of the gaslight about the place, and it’s great to nurse a dark stout in the corner, revelling in the unmistakeable and unique London of it all.
If a gem can be hidden in plain sight, I think it’s the Tavern.