Leaning against the bar of the Fitzroy Tavern, it’s hard not to feel sentimental. In that life-worn pub a distant time of renegades and new thinkers, excited minds and eccentric philosophies have been left splattered on the walls; newly painted but still standing, the ghosts of your heroes sliding you a drink.
I stopped by on Saturday in the middle of what seemed to be a mid-day hush. A couple in the corner and a table of hidden men somewhere speaking a language I do not seemed to be complying to an unwritten law of this place to be quiet, and contemplate. Despite its renown I hadn’t ever myself taken the time before to visit, and so for that reason couldn’t tell you now whether that quiet was indicative of the Fitzroy as a whole these days or whether it is usually busier.
In either case it is strange to see it so still and not packed to the walls with rowdy drinkers. 70-odd-years ago you’d hardly have been able to see, let alone breathe, for the cloud of Craven A and Woodbine smoke, bowing your head not to catch Aleister Crowley‘s menacing eye. Now, like a gravestone, the Fitzroy is a respectful kind of quiet and attracts the sort that only once knew that kind of life – or wished that they had done. HERE LIES A CULTURE YOUR LONDON HAS LOST. Yes . . . sentimentality, that’s exactly it.
Octavian, the bar man, hummed softly as he served me my pint of Taddy Lager. It seemed fitting. A beer as fruitful as the greats this place has hosted. “Tell me about the history,” I asked. He gesticulated around the room with a light smile as he told me; “It’s everywhere, here on the walls, you can see,”
The Fitzroy, originally a coffee house in 1883 made public house in 1919, is the slurred anthem of Bohemian London; the monument in honour of which Fitzrovia takes its name. “If you haven’t visited the Fitzroy, you haven’t visited London” – Augustus John. I’d have to agree; and as those of you who have sat beneath its portraits would confirm, Octavian is right . . . the history really is everywhere.
Glancing around the walls there are the pictures of patrons and customers like Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, Augusts John and Nina Hamnett. There’s a copy behind the bar of The Fitzroy: The Autobiography of a London Tavern that you only need ask for . . . but after a few flicks of the first few pages I could feel my eyes and cheeks start to prickle with the weight of it all and the Brit in me thought it better to just enjoy my beer. I shut the book and looked around at the empty seats and the quotations that were painted on the walls. My chest even tightened a little . . . the way it sometimes does in an important place.
It has been refurbished nicely . . . managed to keep enough of then without selling itself as a museum artifact. Though I didn’t eat anything the menu looked appealing (and, more importantly, affordable). That famous Taddy pineapple-y smell complimented nicely with the get-up. I decided it would be a good pub even without the context. “A good pub” – yes, that’s how I’ll leave it. Please be quiet as you swing this door shut and re-enter your London, your 2019 who flees from the avant-garde, where the rising-cultural-stars would rather stand each other a face-time than a pint.
Heavy hearted and homesick for the past. This is London for God’s sake! If the artists are drinking anywhere . . . it’s here.
Found at: 16 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LY
Open from 12 – 11pm every day of the week (shuts half an hour early on Wednesday)