Fitrzoy Tavern wins ‘best restored pub of the year’ award
Fitzrovian Pennies tradition still alive in former coffee house
23 March, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary
The Fitzroy Tavern is the winner of the Camra and Historic England best restored pub in the UK
A TIME traveller heading from Fitzrovia’s pre-war Bohemian heyday to see how kind, or otherwise, the years have been to the haunts of the neighbourhood’s famous literati would be generally in for a shock, you’ll agree.
But while they may be stunned by the appearance of the Post Office Tower, confused by the swanky restaurants in the Warren Street area, and baffled by the art galleries and high-end fashion stores, if they were to step through the doors of the Fitzroy Tavern to chat with the ghosts of Dylan Thomas, hangman Albert Pierrepoint, politicians Hugh Gaitskell and Tom Driberg and Scotland Yard detectives Bob Fabian and Jack Capstick, they would be pleasantly surprised.
The famous pub in Charlotte Street, for so long the centre of the area’s artistic life, has undergone a year-long restoration project. And to mark the fact this beautiful Victorian pub now looks as it did when it was first opened, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), and its partner Historic England, have given the Fitz an award as the best restored pub in the UK for 2017.
Originally a coffee house, it switched to the harder stuff in 1897 and its popularity escalated as the Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury sets drank, loved, fought and mused at its bars.
The restoration project, by its owners the Yorkshire brewery Samuel Smith, included putting in mahogany “snugs” downstairs and etched glass as it once boasted.
Artist Edward Ardizzone included such features in his studies of London pubs – he drew the Fitz – and other artists such as Augustus John could be found propping up the bar.
Its walls have many pictures done by regulars – and one features Albert Einstein having a pint. He visited the pub and even signed the picture, though sadly the one in situ is a reproduction of the original.
Camra’s Paul Murphy said the Fitzroy was an example of how, with a little care, a pub could flourish in tough times. “Our winners celebrate an enormously wide variety of building styles and contexts, from a modern new build to a historic high street landmark, from a textile mill conversion to a Victorian restoration,” he said. “The sheer diversity of these winners, and their evident commercial success, shows just how vibrant a pub can be, and what an agent of regeneration it can provide, if treated with respect and sensitivity for both building and clientele.”
The pub has many tales, as all good London boozers should have. In 1923 a tradition of throwing paper darts stuffed with coins at the ceiling become the done thing. Using a splodge of glue, the darts would stick and then, once a year, the publicans would collect them up and use them for a children’s charity. Today, the tradition continues and is called Fitzrovian Pennies, supporting projects that foster creativity in young people. Trebles all round.