City of Pubs
LONDON, ENGLAND June 29th – Across the road from my hotel is one of the classic pubs in London: Blackfriar’s. It wasn’t hard to understand why there are so many references to London pubs (public houses) in literature, theater, televison and movies. The reason for this catches your eye at every turn in the crowded heart of that huge city. Literally, every block had at least one – with a brightly colored sign, some ornate painted wooden framing and spectacular flowers to invite you in from the hard-edged streets. Sometimes there were several in an area with high traffic and nearby office density. Always, they were crowded after work. The pub-food was some of the best “comfort food” I’ve ever eaten. The company, for an old American tourist traveling alone over a few days, was remarkably friendly. I even corresponded by email for a few months after returning to the States with a couple I met in the garden outside Blackfriar’s one evening. Yes, remarkably friendly, indeed!
Now, I had four days before Devin’s tour group departed and she moved her things to my room on a different floor of the Crowne Plaza. She certainly wouldn’t want me around the hotel, God forbid a startled encounter with her Daddy in the lobby or the restaurant! They had a full series of tours and expeditions planned. I did, too. We’d meet up on Sunday July 1st for a surprise I’d arranged with the help of the hotel concierge: Tickets to the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium! So, until then, I must keep myself both busy and away from the hotel. Easily done. Alright then, let’s go dive into this place!
The historic road variously called Fleet Street, The Strand, Ludgate Hill, Cannon Street and other names is still the same by-way generally following the north bank of the River Thames in an East-West direction from the Tower of London westward to St. James Park, Green Park and Buckingham Palace. Along this fantastic road are some real architectural gems. Just down the street from The Punch Tavern, towards the Royal Courts of Justice, is this marvelously middle-ages-looking The George. Frommer’s review of the place is as follows: “Although the George’s half-timbered facade would make you believe it’s older than it is, this pub has been around only since 1723, when it was built as a coffeehouse. Set on the Strand, at the lower end of Fleet Street opposite the Royal Courts of Justice, the George is a favorite of barristers, their clients, and the handful of journalists who haven’t moved to other parts of London. The pub’s illustrious history saw Samuel Johnson having his mail delivered here and Oliver Goldsmith enjoying many tankards of what eventually became draught Bass.”
The Old Bell Tavern was built in the 1670’s and has been a licensed tavern for over 300 years. Its worn appearance gives it a lived-in, cosy atmosphere. The rear leads out into the courtyard of St Bride’s Church.
George & Vulture, review from http://www.Squaremeal.co.uk: “Thanks to several appearances in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, The George & Vulture had its fame assured long ago. Its image as a classic Olde English drinking tavern has softened over the years, although the place still has charms aplenty to win over the tourists. Wedged into the same atmospheric warren of lanes as the Jamaica Wine House & Simpson’s Tavern, this Samuel Smith’s pub is rather more plush than its neighbours but still puts on a jovial face. Honest British food ‘without any fancy names’ is the order of the day. Start with devilled whitebait or perhaps a baked field mushroom & Stilton, before setting your sights on a Barnsley chop, steak & kidney pie, or fillet of plaice meunière. Be sure to leave room for a calorie-laden school pudding, cheese or savoury to round things off. G&V’s cider also comes highly recommended.”
Friday evening, the 29th of June, returning to the hotel after a good afternoon’s exploration on foot and tube, Blackfriar’s across the road from the hotel draws a crowd of executives and young people mingling inside and out in the pleasant garden before catching the train at the Blackfriar’s Station home for the weekend.
The talk this evening was of the foiled terrorist car bomb attack in Piccadilly earlier that same morning. It seemed that, outside a West End nightclub “Tiger Tiger” on Haymarket Street, alert officers called in a bomb squad about 2:00am Friday who proceeded to defuse a smoking silver Mercedes-Benz parked on the street with several propane tanks, petrol cans, explosives, detonators and hundreds of nails packed inside!
Had the car bomb gone off when the club crowd swarmed into the streets after closing hour, as had been planned, a horrendous scene might have unfolded. Thankfully, the detonation system that the terrorists used was faulty. Nearby, hours later officials also found another similar car, illegally parked and packed with the same explosive combination…probably a backup. Neither car bomb detonated, thankfully.
Little did we know that the investigation, chase and arrest of the members of the group responsible for that failed attack on Haymarket Street would play out in the newspapers and television screens of London over the next few days. This was INTERNATIONAL NEWS playing out in front of our eyes. Two of the group eventually attempt to crash their petrol-filled Jeep into the Glasgow airport terminal up north, trying to commit suicide while attempting to blow up innocent travelers. They failed on both counts, well that is, except one terrorist died of his burns a few days later. The driver and his colleague were treated at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley. No travelers in the airport terminal were hurt. So much for a quiet first day in London!
The City of London has a resilient quality, pushing back at adversity and enveloping tragedy within its arms for centuries. Nothing seems to rile it. The beat hardly skipped, from our vantage point as observers of this violent attempt at anarchy. The only change noticeable to us was the changing type font size and theme of the headlines and glaring photos on the front pages of the free newspapers in the Underground stations over the ensuing days.
It was nice, finally, to slide into a dark corner of Blackfriar’s and know that I could slip across the street to my hotel anytime I felt like it. What an amazing place! The sights, the sounds, the pulse of this vibrant London…what an awesome first day!