Monday, February 08, 2010

A Bibulous Tour of Belgravia

Declared fit after being confined to barracks for three weeks by a troublesome cough, I was more than ready to join friend and Westminster guide Joanna on what she called a 'bibulous tour', in other words a pub walk, in Belgravia. I thought it might be useful to know about some backstreet inns for the times when I'm stuck in the West End wondering where to get a drink and a sit-down.

It wasn't all pubs, though. Joanna stopped from time to time and supplied her group of eight walkers with interesting historical asides (and current house prices) relevant to the mews, churches and sidestreets around Eaton Square.

We learned, for instance, about the fortuitous marriage of Sir Robert Grosvenor, Marquess of Westminster. His twelve-year-old bride was heiress to an area known as 'Five Fields' which included most of Mayfair. His statue has him with a foot placed on a milestone as reminder that his family seat was 197 miles away in Cheshire. Talbot dogs that flank the great man appear on his family escutcheon and were familiar from the pottery versions I'd seen on sideboards. They remain as sad reminders of a breed now extinct.

There were more than pubs on the walk, and Joanna stopped in front of the house where Ian Fleming once lived, as a blue plaque denotes. On the way to the first pub I talked to a lively young woman who runs a business based on food-and-wine-tasting events.

The Star Tavern was the first pub, its interior both spacious and welcoming with a real coal fire blazing away in the grate. The only disappointment was the lack of hot drinks. 'We have no facilities'. Just in time, I stopped the barman from adding ice to my tomato juice. I noted the pub does Sunday roasts at a reasonable £7.95, so I think it'll be suitable for celebrating R's birthday next month.

The Nag's Head was tiny, with a two-foot high bar in the front parlour and a tiny space with barrels for tables at the back. Here the bartender was heard to remark to someone asking for tea 'We're running a pub, not a cafe', which saved me the bother of a query. I didn't have a drink at all there, but chatted to a woman who was trying to persuade Joanna to do a city walk for her customers interested in Maritime trade.

The best was saved 'til last - a pub that looked straight out of toytown, with a bright blue facade and a red senty box outside. Not only did this delightful pub serve hot drinks but the coffee came in a cafetiere with instructions to wait three minutes for it to brew. Now how could pouring boiling water on coffee grounds be too much trouble at the other places?

Here I talked to Tony, like myself a keen supporter of 'Liars League', a bi-monthly pub meeting where actors read out short stories, the best of entries submitted under a different theme each week. There was plenty of reading matter scattered about, including a magazine called The Belgravia, and an intriguing back room with pictures and banknotes pinned to the ceiling.

So now I'm all set to impress family and friends with my knowledge of Belgravia pubs. Thanks, Joanna.

The Star Tavern:

The Nag's Head:

The Grenadier:

Food and Drink Experiences:

Joanna's Westminster Walks:

Liar's League:

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