The Blackfriars of the Dominican Order sect of Catholicism were known for their intellect, theology and philosophical thinking. Appropriate considering that, after a thorough day Pub Raiding for your pleasure (we really are good to you people), our merry band of cranks found ourselves pondering one of life’s great existential questions here – “what is table?”
Though we managed to scrape enough seats together it was a pint in hand or pint on ground situation at The Blackfriars, which probably says all you need to know about the popularity of the place, despite its quite useless location.
In a city so spoilt for sights and attractions, the adjacent Blackfriars station must feel a bit of a runt compared to say, Wesminster or Waterloo. Granted, the river is nearby and the customary bridge, but other than that… Unless you’re the kind of person that has a favourite Tesco Express or likes visiting renovated tube stations, there really isn’t a lot to do here. Which brings our “what is table” ponderance into sharp focus.
There is little passing trade here. You could easily walk to the other side of the bridge and enjoy a pint on a balcony over the river, looking across to St Pauls and Canary Wharf and BT Tower. All this added together suggests that people come here for the pub, and so they should.
There is the benefit of outdoor seating (albeit at a Taxi-clogged junction), but it is within that The Blackfriar comes alive. The building is Grade II listed, partly on the basis of its unique, ornate art nouveau styling. It is like having a drink inside a carved wooden Sistine Chapel, complete with references to the site’s monastic past, and an arcing bar that wouldn’t look out of place in a piece of film noir. There’s a vast rotation of guest ales is available – I vaguely remember a rainbow of beers was sampled by our crew – and there the usual (although not outstanding) range of foodstuffs available. It really is a beautiful place to have a drink, which is probably why we couldn’t get a bloody table.
The late poet Sir John Betjeman was influential in saving this pub from demolition and he, of course, sums up why pubs such as The Blackfriars are so valuable and worthy of custom in his ironic and poignant Inexpensive Progress…