The Ship Tavern is one of London's oldest pubs. Positioned down a side alley, it is many people's 'secret' place for a quiet drink but I'll let you in on the secret as this is a great place for a pint or to have lunch or dinner.
The Ship Tavern has been in the Holborn area for nearly 500 years. It started out just around the corner, in Whetstone Park, closer to Lincoln's Inn Fields, in a smaller timber building.
The fields spread much further back then and the pub was popular with the farm laborers.
As well as being a public house, The Ship Tavern has served many purposes in its lifetime. During the 16th century King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic church and started the English Reformation. When the Church of England was created, Catholicism became against the law. The Ship Tavern was established in 1549 and was used to hold secret Catholic services and to hide and protect Catholic priests.
When the services were held there were lookouts outside ready to send word back to the pub so the priest could run to safety, if needed. Some clergy didn't move quickly enough and, when caught, were executed on the spot. This is why The Ship Tavern features in many haunted publications about London.
There's also a rumor that Shakespeare visited the pub which is hard to confirm either way but he did visit many London public houses.
What we do know is The Ship Tavern was consecrated as Masonic lodge 234 in 1736 by the Grand Master, the Earl of Antrim, and rebuilt in 1923. So all is not as old as it seems.
The Ship Tavern is down a side alley, just off the corner of Kingsway and Holborn, so behind Holborn tube station. It's close to Lincoln's Inn Fields where there's the Sir John Soane's Museum, Hunterian Museum and the 'Old Curiosity Shop'.
It's close to Covent Garden and London's West End theatres making it a good choice for a pre-theatre meal.
While there's a bar downstairs, the first floor 'Oak Room' has a separate entrance to get you straight upstairs to this cosy dining room with a roaring fire.
Dark mahogany walls, antique paintings and candle light give the room a 'Dickensian' feel making it popular with couples, yet they can also accommodate larger groups. The low lighting certainly adds to the intimate atmosphere making it feel as if you have found a real hidden gem.
It can get a bit loud with the general chatter while dining but the booth seating helps keep the conversation between just you and your companion/s.
The menu is all about traditional British classics and there's a daily specials blackboard too. The meals are rich and portions are hearty and filling. A pub that doesn't serve decent food these days simply won't survive in London.
The Pan Fried Sea Bass was a perfect crisp-skinned fish with a lovely velvety mashed potato. There's certainly a modern twist on the classic British dishes but it's all done well.
Prices seem slightly high if you're having lunch but seem spot on if you're having dinner (same menu, it's just a matter of perspective).
Sunday lunch is very popular so definitely book ahead. And there is live jazz in the bar on Sundays from 4.30pm to 7pm.
The Ship Tavern is a good-looking, traditional 'boozer' (pub) from the outside and inside the bar. There's stripped oak floors and more booth seating for that cosy atmosphere.
As well as six real ales on tap (two rotating on a weekly basis) there are over 50 gins on offer from the gin cabinet, plus a comprehensive wine list.
If the dining room is full there is a bar menu available with some real British classics such as pork pies, scotch eggs, sausage rolls, pickled eggs and onions and even cockles and mussels.
Address: The Ship Tavern, 12 Gate Street, Holborn, London WC2A 3HP
Tel: 020 7405 1992
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