Pub/Bar of the Month December 2015: Cittie of Yorke, London, UK
Cittie of Yorke, London, UK
There are numerous truly ancient pubs in London but the Cittie of Yorke is not one of them.
Despite its historic appearance, the pub was only constructed in the early twentieth century, a replacement for an earlier building. There has been a pub here since 1430.
That said, you have to hand it to the architect. The venerable, neo-Gothic look has been so well created that the pub has achieved a listing in CAMRA's National Inventory of historic interiors.
As you step off busy High Holborn, beyond the mock-Tudor façade, you enter the narrow but deep pub via a long, flagstoned corridor.
Off to the left is a lounge, reminiscent of a gentlemen’s club with its carpeted floors, wood panelling and padded sofas. Also off the entrance corridor is a flight of stairs leading down to an atmospheric cellar bar with a vaulted brick-arch ceiling.
But the primary focus here is on the cavernous back room, a baronial hall in everything but true age.
Bareboard floors stretch away into the distance, past a long oak counter above which a gantry is fixed, groaning under the weight of several old wooden vats.
A black and white, open-raftered ceiling soars above and small leaded panes of glass illuminate the many standing drinkers who congregate here when the nearby offices turn out.
There are two stand-out features in this spacious drinking arena. The first is a series of small cubicles that offer a touch of privacy for little groups of customers who prefer to keep their conversation to themselves.
I, for one, have often made good use of one of these for a meeting. If you can bag one before rush hour, you’re well set for the evening.
The second is a remarkable, triangular stove that seems to defy the laws of physics as it has no visible chimney. Apparently, smoke is vented from underneath. Don’t ask me why or how. I can, however, vouch for its efficiency.
One year, while I was editor, we launched the Good Beer Guide here. As the guide was sponsored by a coal company, we needed to find a pub with a prominent fireplace and the Cittie of Yorke, with its strange little stove, ticked all the boxes.
What we didn’t account for was the amount of heat it would generate which, when coupled with the number of journalists and CAMRA members squeezed into the room, made things somewhat uncomfortable.
Quenching the Thirst
Still, there was plenty of beer to quench the thirst. The pub is one of a few dozen pubs in the capital owned and run by Yorkshire brewer Samuel Smith, although the strange lack of branding on the exterior – apart from a copper crest declaring, somewhat vaguely, 'beer brewed at Yorkshire's oldest brewery' – excuses any ignorance of that fact.
The other peculiarity of Sam’s pubs is the lack of big-name products on sale. It’s not just Sam’s own beers all the way, but Sam’s own soft drinks and spirits, too.
That might deter badge drinkers but it does mean excellent value for money. You don’t pay London prices in here.
That benefit is offset slightly by the fact that there is only one cask beer on offer.
Sam’s still insists on supplying its Old Brewery Bitter in wooden casks, which makes temperature control and the condition of the beer a touch harder to guarantee than with beer in metal casks.
That, accentuated by the distance to London from the Tadcaster brewery, explains why many of Sam’s pubs in the city stock no cask beer at all.
At the Cittie of Yorke, the OBB gets plenty of turnover. It’s a full-bodied beer for its modest 4% ABV, with malt dominant throughout, but countering the sweetness is a touch of dryness that emerges from the tangy oak.
If OBB is not to your taste, then there are plenty of keg options, beers that have been knocking around since long before the new keg dawn.
Sam’s offers a few bitters, including India Ale, a stout, a wheat beer and a collection of lagers, one of which, Organic Pure Brewed Lager, is a personal favourite, albeit a touch over-carbonated at times.
If you still can’t find anything to appeal, there’s always the extensive Sam Smith’s bottle collection, including the superlative, oak-aged Yorkshire Stingo, although, at north of £12 a go here, it’s certainly a special-occasion beer.
Considering its beer provision and remarkable architecture, the Cittie of Yorke is clearly not your average pub. Check it out next time you’re in this part of the capital.
Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn, London WC1V 6BN
Tel. (020) 7242 7670
Opening Hours: 11.30–11; closed Sunday