Taverns in Town #14: The Red House, Elystan Street SW3

As I approached the Red House I could see that it was boarded up and looking a little sorry for itself. This looked like a location where a business, be it a restaurant or a pub, ought to be thriving, so I was surprised.

Taverns in Town is relatively brief in its entry on the Red House, but does provide some clues as to the possible reasons for the demise of the pub:

“Outside it still presents something of the appearance of a village pub, even though the green has long since vanished. This tavern is well worth taking note of, perhaps for when one…wishes to escape as quickly as possible from the King’s Road. It lies amid houses that, by and large, are smaller than those on the south side of the King’s Road, but this is a fashionable residential district nevertheless, and the Red House enjoys a steady local trade.”

Situated on what remains of the old Chelsea village green, this should be a good location. It sits at the meeting point of several local residential streets and there are several shops and restaurants nearby.

The key phrase in the book is probably ‘enjoys a steady local trade’. This area has become one of the most expensive in London. Residents these days tend to be mega-rich foreigners, who are not as likely as the residents of the 1970s to be popping down to the pub for a pint.

In addition this area is only a stone’s throw from the King’s Road, where there is plenty of competition for trade and as the book implies, you have to leave the King’s Road to seek it out. Therefore, one suspects that only a true destination pub or restaurant could work here.

As depicted in Taverns in Town, as it is today with the green, remnants of a pub

As depicted in Taverns in Town, as it is today with the green, remnants of a pub

A little digging online reveals that this building has struggled to sustain a business over the last decade or so. It has variously been Café Bodega, Album Bar and Kitchen, The Markham Inn, Cahoots and The Red House.

In its final incarnation, echoing the 1970s pub, it was an American-style bistro run by top New York chef John De Lucie. However, reviews of the place suggest that it was doomed from the start. Further investigation suggests that the best format was the Markham Inn, which was the closest to a traditional pub. But the evidence is that, while popular, it struggled for passing trade.

As I post, this building on a seemingly jinxed corner of Chelsea Green is being re-opened as Niku, a restaurant serving ‘Chelsea based Japanese cuisine’. One day it would be nice to see a pub back on the site – but it would probably need to be something very special to survive.

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