The fact this long, narrow little pub has managed to survive the frenzy of Docklands redevelopment shows what a special place it is. Now a listed building, it stands at the end of a row of similar dwellings. Local residents include knights and lords, and one, Sir Ian McKellen, has bought the place, taking over from long serving ex-bunny girl Barbara Haigh, not that you’ll see Sir Ian pulling a pint.
Built in 1720, on the site of a previous pub, the Grapes was a working class tavern, serving the workers of the Limehouse Basin. There are unsavoury stories of watermen taking drunks from the pub, drowning them in the river, then selling their corpses for medical dissection. Today’s customers are a mix of original Eastenders and wealthier newcomers, who all enjoy the relaxed and informal atmosphere.
There is no television or fruit machines and definitely no children; just good conversation, excellent food, fine wine and good ales. The front bar has dark stained timber clad walls; an assortment of odd wooden chairs and tables and bare floorboards. The back bar has an open fire and steps leading to a deck over the Thames. Up some very narrow stairs is the small restaurant which looks out over the river.
Charles Dickens knew this pub well. As a child, he was made to stand on a table and sing to the customers. As an adult, he immortalised it as the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters pub in Our Mutual Friend .