Pub/Bar of the Month June 2016: The Jerusalem Tavern, London, UK
The Jerusalem Tavern, London, UK
There’s a lot of history attached to the Jerusalem Tavern. The only problem is that not much of it is actually related to the pub itself.
The pub is owned by St Peter’s Brewery and a glance at its webpage reveals that ‘the Tavern has occupied many sites in the area since the 14th century and the current building dates from 1720’.
What isn’t explained is that the present pub only opened in the 1990s – converted from a café – and is a something of a folly, a reconstruction of what a pub may have looked like a couple of centuries earlier.
That’s not to say that there is anything amiss with this recreation. In fact, it is one of the most atmospheric and distinctive pubs in London and makes for an attractive option in a busy area close to Smithfield meat market and Farringdon station.
Research reveals that a number of Jerusalem Taverns have existed in this part of London, one of which was flattened for road widening towards the end of the nineteenth century but reportedly was frequented by Dr Johnson earlier.
You can indeed imagine Johnson sitting in one of the pub’s corners as you venture into today’s location, stepping from the street through the quaint frontage with its small-paned windows into the dark interior.
A small, tiled front room, almost like a porch, remains discrete from the rest of the pub, which then breaks out into a number of small, well-defined drinking areas, one of which sits a few steps up from the central bar.
Soft comforts are non-existent. This is ale drinking at its most functional, with hard benches and gnarled old tables grounded on stripped-board floors.
There’s a stuffed fox in a glass case and some old St Peter’s bottles gathering dust on a shelf but otherwise there is little to detract from the pleasure of supping a pint and enjoying a chinwag.
The dark ochre ceiling and the brown and olive-green paintwork deliberately deepen the sombre tone with only a few pieces of modern art and some fresh flowers on the tables providing any hint of colour.
The bar is well stocked with St Peter’s beers, most served by air pressure through fake cask ends mounted on the wall.
Although St Peter’s bottled beers are exported around the world (and available in full here), their draught equivalents are not commonly found this far away from their Suffolk homeland, so the pub provides a rare opportunity to explore their Best Bitter, Golden Ale or Ruby Red, for instance.
If you call in at lunchtime, you can also take advantage of a reasonably-priced menu of pasta, burgers and other dishes.
The Jerusalem Tavern is small and often crowded, but get there early and you can enjoy a quiet hour, drinking good ale and taking in what a London pub might have looked like in another age.
The Jerusalem Tavern, 55 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 5UQ
Tel. (020) 7490 4281
Opening Hours: 11–11; 12–6 Sunday; closed Saturday