FLEET STREET and its tortuous by-alleys were for hundreds of years famous for its taverns. Here not only the wits and gourmands of the day made merry, but within their hospitable walls could be found at all hours of the day, and most of those of the night, men of note and quality.
"The coffee house," to quote Macaulay, "was the Londoner's home, and those who wished to find a gentleman, commonly asked . » . whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow."
Of these but few remain. Of many only their sites are known. All of them, however, are remembered because they were the haunts of men whose names are household words to-day. In the Devil's Tavern, we hear of Swift dining with Dr. Garth and Addison, Garth treating; and of Dr. Johnson presiding at a supper party which was given to Mrs. Charlotte Lenox, in honour of the publication of her first novel, "The Life of Harriet Stuart."
"The supper was elegant," so runs the chronicle, "and Johnson had directed that a magnificent hot apple-pie should make a part of it; and this he would have stuck with bay leaves, because, forsooth, Mrs. Lenox was an author- ess. ... About five (A. M.) Johnson's face shone with meridian splendour, though his drink had been only lemon- ade. The dawn of day began to put us in mind of our reck- oning; but the waiters were all so overcome, with sleep that it was two hours before a bill could be had, and it was not until near eight that the creaking of the street door gave the signal for our departure."
The famous Kit-Kat Club stood in Shire Lane. Here, in Queen Anne's reign, thirty-nine young noblemen and gentlemen attached to the House of Hanover were wont to "sleep away the days and drink away the nights."
Hard by was the Bible Tavern, which was appropriately chosen by Jack Sheppard for many of his orgies, for it was possessed of a trap-door leading to a subterranean passage.
The Cock — one of the few surviving taverns. [Click to enlarge.]
The Rainbow — the second to be opened in London — dated as far back as 1637. Here its proprietor, a certain James Fan, a barber, was, in 1657, prevented by the Parish from "makinge and sellinge of a drinke called coffee, whereby in making the same he annoyeth his neighbours by evil smells."
"Dicks"— now an Italian restaurant — may still be found at No. 8 entered by a passage.
"The Cock" alone survives.
Smith, F. Hopkinson. & In Thackeray's London. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1916.
Last modified 9 July 2012