Taverns in Town #6: The Black Friar, Queen Victoria Street EC4

Pub number six took me to an establishment that I was all too familiar with.

I first visited The Black Friar in the spring of 2001, not many months after moving to London. This pub is one of a kind. There isn’t another pub in the land to match its interior Arts and Crafts detailing.

Despite visiting several times over the years, I wasn’t too aware of its history.

Taverns in Town’ makes the following observations:

[The Black Friar is] one of those eccentricities of pub architecture that never cease to prompt wonder and admiration…From the outside this tavern appears but a gaunt and perhaps slightly over-ornate late Victorian structure, adorned by reasonably unusual features but otherwise hardly deserving of a special visit. It is only inside that the true uniqueness of the place becomes apparent, for there, all is marblemosaic and intricately fashioned woodwork that mingle the influence of the English Arts and Crafts Movement of the second half of the nineteenth century with the art nouveau style that so occupied fin de siècle designers and that today is all the fashion once again.

Upon entering the pub, one can’t help but look up and around at the jolly monks carved in relief and their interesting mottoes. Haste is Slow. Finery is Foolery.  All phrases hark back to the Victorian era when the pub was built. Some are more serious in tone than others.

As depicted in the book, the exterior today and the jolly monks

As depicted in the book, the exterior today and the jolly monks

Originally built in 1875, it was given the makeover of all makeovers in 1905 to bring it to more or less its current look and feel. Situated in the Blackfriars area of the City, the pub and its location take their name from the monks of a Dominican priory on this site from the thirteenth century up until the refomation of Henry VIII. Remarkably, in the post-war years, The Black Friar’s design was seen as ostentatious and in bad taste by the commentators of the day. It is said that it was saved from demolition only by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman. You can read a little more about that in the excellent Boak and Bailey article ‘The Snug Bar Preservation Society’.

This pub should be one of the first on the list for tourists visiting London. The evidence suggests that this is the case and to my mind it does feel like something of a tourist trap. A Nicholson’s house these days, it has a wide, if often uninspiring, range of beer. The prices for both beer and food scream “captive audience”, but I would suggest that if you haven’t been then it’s worth popping in for a quick pint and explore, if not a long session.

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