An insider’s look at London
Roxy is a veteran of the 1980s Soho scene, having worked at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in an era when the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud would stumble from pub to drinking den. The Seven Stars is a much quieter proposition: “A mellow place to sit – an elegant home from home,” as Roxy puts it. Its location in a somewhat overlooked area of central London means that it is a pub you have to seek out – and therein lies its appeal. Walk in the door and you feel like you’ve found something special.
“This is a lovely part of London,” says Roxy. “On one side you have the thieves and stewpots of Covent Garden, on the other, the ice-cold Corporation of London and the City. This is the land in-between, up to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Bloomsbury, and it’s a terrific area. It’s hidden, and that makes it magical.” Regulars include legal clerks from the court, ministers and musicians from St Paul’s, and the more discerning students from King’s College. “Get them in the first year and you’ve got them for life. I get former students bringing their babies in to show me years later.”
Places like The Seven Stars justify the mythology surrounding London pubs – it’s welcoming, eccentric and, despite Roxy coming from Australia, very English. “London would be miserable without its pubs. We provide a home for the bewildered and a place where people can meet. You could meet the man of your dreams in a pub.”
More classic London pubs
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: A glorious rabbit warren of a pub, rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire. The wooden beams and low doorways almost transport you back in time (145 Fleet St, EC4A; 020 7353 6170).
- The Wenlock Arms: A real “knees-up-round-the-joanna” pub with a veteran band playing music on Friday nights, a roaring fire and a great selection of real ales.
Walking through Columbia Road Flower Market early on a Sunday morning, you can’t help but appreciate the ritual verbal ding-dong of a great London market. “Three bunches for a fiver – cheap enough to give to someone you don’t like,” says one stallholder, chucking a box of flowers towards a punter waiting with hands outstretched. “So cheap you could stick them on your mother-in-law’s grave,” cries another.
Halfway down this East London street, crammed with colours, scents and stems, is the stall run by 83-year-old George Gladwell, who has been working at the market since 1949. “The secret to the banter,” he explains, “is making people smile. If you can make people laugh, you’ll do alright.”
No matter what the weather, it’s always spring on Sundays at Columbia Road. There’s been a market here since the days when cattle traders would march their herds down this road from London Fields to Smithfields. The arrival of the Jewish community in the 19th century saw the trading day shift to Sundays, which meant that vendors could pick up the leftover flowers from the Saturday market at Covent Garden, stack them high and sell them cheap.
Behind the stalls, the independent shops and cafés are an integral part of the market’s magic. There are little art galleries, jewellers and shops selling antiques. Turn off at Ezra Street and there’s a maze of cobbled streets bursting with the wares of the area’s creative community – woven baskets, handmade trinkets and vintage clothes, alongside freshly shucked oysters and a three-man folk band busking sea shanties. Far from the tourist squeeze of the markets in Borough and Portobello, this little quarter of London comes into bloom every weekend – and the flowers are just the start of it.
More unique London markets