A good place to start is on the edge of Soho at Oxford Circus, a few yards down Argyll Street is the Argyll Arms. This gleaming little pub has one of the best preserved Victorian interiors in the country. Most rare are the small cubicles that line the front bar. Lavish etched and cut glass screens in crafted hardwood frames, form cosy, discreet boxes. Most of the decoration and fittings here are original.
TIP: If you are doing a daytime walk this pub opens early, does excellent coffee and will be yours to inspect.
Directions: Turn right out of the Argyll, pass the Palladium and turn left at the end of the street at Liberty’s. The mock Tudor store was built in 1924 from the timbers of two war ships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. (Wikipedia). Turn right into Great Marlborough Place at the side of Liberty, which leads into Carnaby Street. Pass Will Shakespeare hanging out from the pub and take a right into Ganton Street, then left into kingly Street and head to the Red Lion on the left.
The Red Lion, Kingly Street is a bit of a recluse, it hardly shouts out at you. This is a nice pub, bigger than it looks from the front. It has lots of panelling and the cosiest of bars at the front. A large room at the back has a dartboard. A Samuel Smith’s pub, it has (had) no real ales, but some interesting substitutes at good prices.
Directions: Left out of the Red Lion, left into Brewer Street, walk the length of Brewer Street, right briefly into Wardour Street and left into Old Compton Street (pass the Admiral Duncan pub on the left, the site of a horrific nail-bombing in 1999) then right into dean Street and the French House.
Soho is a magnet for immigrants, first the Huguenots settled here, and then the French. During World War Two the Free French gathered at this pub and de Gaulle is supposed to have written his declaration of defiance to the Nazis here, \'A Tous Les Francais\'. It’s an unusual place, beer served in halves, wine the preferred drink, and good food. Formerly the York Minster, everyone knew it as the French pub and it eventually changed its name. Regulars included ; Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and Jeffrey Barnard.
Directions: From the French House turn left and left again into Romilly Street, look for the red pub, the sign says Norman’s.
The Coach and Horses was run by one of Soho’s ‘characters,’ Norman Balon. He had a reputation of being rude to his customers and barring them. In time it became a badge of honour to be thrown out by Norman. Now retired, Norman’s Coach and Horses continues as a good pub and has regular ‘sing songs’ around the piano.
Directions: Leave the Coach and Horses and head up Greek Street to the Pillars on the right.
The Pillars of Hercules in Greek Street is another Soho institution. It has a cosy country pub bar and some good ales. In Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ the Hercules Pillars is this pub’s predecessor. The Tudor here, is of the mock variety. Great sign though.
Directions: Back track slightly and walk down Bateman Street to the Dog and Duck.
The Dog and Duck is a Soho favourite. Small but perfectly formed, it has some lovely tiles and original decoration, meriting its inclusion in CAMRA’s National Inventory. A good bustling atmosphere and some excellent ales, including Tim Taylor’s Landlord as a regular. George Orwell has a room named after him, is this The Moon Under Water?
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