Taverns in Town #10: The Spaniards Inn, Spaniards Road NW3

Pub number ten was a very famous outer London landmark that I had heard all about, but never visited myself. The Spaniards Inn is an iconic pub, with a famous beer garden and is perhaps one of the most filmed and photographed inside the M25.

Taverns in Town describes the Spaniards as “still essentially a village pub” that has been subsumed by London life:

“Opposite this fine old inn stands a seventeenth century toll house, a firm reminder of the time when Hampstead really was an isolated community, not connected with the mass of Greater London in the way it now is.”

The toll house means that traffic past the pub is reduced to single file, such is the narrowness of the road and this in itself gives the pub a quaint, countryside feel. Both the pub and the toll house are listed, which means they are protected from schemes such as one in the 1960s to demolish the toll house and widen the road.

As depicted in Taverns in Town, as it is today and a shot of the bar from the pub website

As depicted in Taverns in Town, as it is today and a shot of the bar from the pub website

It is reputed that there has been an inn on this site since the sixteenth century (as it says on the outside of the building), but records can only date it to the early eighteenth century, when the inn had no name. The story goes that the landlords were two brothers from Spain and their names were difficult for the locals to pronounce so the pub simply became known as the Spaniards’.

It’s difficult to know whether to believe the stories of historical connections to pubs. Are they real, or were they conjured up as a means of attracting more customers by some previous landlord? The Spaniards’ has variously been linked to the famous highwayman Dick Turpin (his Dad once ran the pub, don’t you know), Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale (which he apparently wrote while sitting in the pub garden) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which was based on one of the pub’s ghost stories).

One thing that is certain is that the pub is mentioned in Dracula and also in Charles Dickens’ The  Pickwick Papers. So both authors were likely to have been familiar with the pub, if not regulars.

It was pretty chilly on my visit, so no one but a few smokers were out in the garden. The low ceilings and wood panelling in the bar area suggest the perfect mix of countryside and city. The pub had a decent mix of real ale and more crafty offerings. I had the draft Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Prices were pretty eye-watering, but you’re in Hampstead, so it’s going to be upmarket. The food looked very nice, but I didn’t try any and, in line with the beer it looked pricey. All in all, a visit is recommended and I’ll be coming back for a visit in the summer when the garden gets into full swing, perhaps combining with a visit to Kenwood House across the road.

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