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PUBS, PATIOS & BARS: London’s Lord of the Pubs

While celebrity ownership of an establishment holds little sway with us in PP&B, Ian McKellen’s connection to The Grapes pub in London clearly contributes another unique page of note to the long story of one of the city’s oldest public houses.

Overlooking the Thames from the north side in the Limehouse/Docklands area (near Canary Wharf), The Grapes has, for close to 450 years, established a measure of fame predating the proprietorship of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings films (or Magneto from the X-Men if that’s your cup of tea).

For example, the pub was notably depicted by Charles Dickens in “Our Mutual Friend”:

“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”

Fortunately, the former The Bunch of Grapes has outlived its seamy working-class background and architectural ambiguity, prompting the British acting legend McKellen to purchase the place with a couple of partners in 2011. (He lived a few doors down and was a frequent patron).

McKellen provides a detailed history of the establishment, which dates to 1583, on the website, including other literary references, including Sherlock Holmes and Dorian Gray.

The Grapes interior

As for McKellen’s own Tolkien touchpoint, there is only an understated small bronze statue of the great wizard in a corner of the pub, which is otherwise filled with various oil paintings and interesting knickknacks, such as a fluffy cat gifted by friend Patrick Steward (Star Trek’s Captain Picard and fellow X-Men castmate) carefully positioned behind the long Victorian bar.

Noticeably narrow – thus suitably set at No. 76 Narrow Street on the landside – the structure stretches to the river, where lucky patrons might snag a seat on the balcony to watch the enduring Thames world flow by. Or in the Dickens Snug where the namesake author is reputed to have danced on the table.

A good wine list beckons and pub grub like fish and chips, homemade pie of the day, and sausage and mash can be taken at the bar or in an upstairs dining room.

Before the pandemic, the pub (which awaits a hopeful May 17 re-opening date in the UK) hosted quiz nights on Mondays, sometimes moderated by McKellen himself.

In any case, The Grapes is a fine place to rest and have a drink, even, as Gandalf might say, “all the orcs ever spawned were after (you).”

Or, perhaps, more simply, “Drink, you fool!”

The Grapes is located at 76 Narrow St., Limehouse (transit: Limehouse DLR station).

McKellen and friends in 2015

With glass purposefully in hand, we at Travel Industry Today continue our series on some of the planet’s best bars, patios and rooftop venues. For more articles in the series, click here:



First published at Travel Industry Today

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