The Blackfriar’s pub should marvel any visitor, hence the necessity for me to provide as many pictures as possible. Feast your eyes on splendid mosaics of jolly monks with brass fittings and a marble top bar while taking down a good pint of ale to candle light. The building itself, which looks like a massive cheese wedge left naked through the destruction of its surroundings, was built circa 1875. It was unfortunately scheduled to be put to rest under unscrupulous bull dozing, and the ever zealous race for more space in central London. However, thanks to the efforts of many including the Poet Laureate John Betjeman, it was saved for us to enjoy. Now, it stands as an island amongst the modern buildings, trains, and utter chaos that marks this intersection by Blackfriar’s Bridge.
On the site of the pub previously was a Dominican priory from 1279-1539, that is until Henry VIII enforced the dissolution of all said priories. The former tenants though provide the inspiration for the amazing décor.
As per the front plaque, ‘The site become the Parliament Chamber of the Monastery. It is believed that Emperor Charles V, the Papal Magistrate and Henry VIII’s court sat on this very spot during the dissolution of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1532’. This infamous divorce was the catalyst to the dissolution of the priors through the formation of the Church of England. It is a shame this pub was not there then, as I am sure ‘Ole Henry could have used a beer after that heavy decision.
When you are enter just take a look around to the hammered copper guards on the window ledge, the marble topped counter, and roll your eyes above the bar and the fire place for amazing bronze work of the black friars as they collect apples and grapes or sing carols.
The art nouveau refit inside of 1905 is nothing short of amazing in its depiction of the benevolent black friars. The back room with its wall to wall marble is nothing short of a chapel in a cathedral. With its brass depiction of the friars, you can see them merrily betrothing sage quips like ‘wisdom is rare’, ‘finery is foolery’, and ‘a good thing is soon snatched up’.
Get to the back room and peer up at the curved ceiling with its golden mosaics (look to the center mosaic for a compass rose). Also, be sure to scout out the little bronze cherubs in the four corners of the room each celebrating one of the arts: theatre, painting, music and literature.
The light fixtures show you that not all was fun and games at the priory: the fascinating little light fixtures are comprised of a monk carrying a yoke upon his back.
This pub proves that the arts and crafts movement did some pretty interesting things, and can make one hell of a backdrop for downing an ale and conversing with friends. This is not only a pub but a living piece of art somewhere between a church, museum, and public house. Good ales on tap (5 or 6 on pull) and an abundant feast for the eyes, one can only hope that the monks now rest happily knowing their memory remains beautifully depicted in such a space.
I would recommend going in at an off peak time (think outside of City hours weekdays and good luck with possible tourists brigades on weekends). The reality is that this can be very crowded but it will be worth it. Take a seat in the arched back room covered in monks and mosaics, and enjoy an ale while appreciating the fine art of cultural preservation!
Open thankfully everyday of the week!