Three star - A pub interior of exceptional national historic importance
Listed Status: II2 Duke of York Street
Tel: (020) 7321 0782
Real Ale: Yes
Lunchtime Meals: Yes
Nearby Station: London Charing Cross
Station Distance: 950m
Public Transport: Near Railway Station (London Charing Cross) and Bus Stop
View on: Whatpub
Although one of London’s smallest pubs, this packs in an exceptional amount of exuberant Victorian decoration.
It is reassuring to know that a pub as tiny as this Victorian gem can still survive in central London, and not only that but its interior is one of the most spectacular in the capital. It was built in 1821 but in 1871 architect W. H. Rawlings gave it a new frontage containing three entrances, two of them topped by grand arches. The doors are evidence that the pub was originally sub-divided into separate areas, with ‘Public Bar’ and ‘Private Bar’ announced in the glass in the doors. Inside is now all one – two connecting doors having long ago been removed - and snakes around the central serving area. Part of an original screen – above a now-absent connecting door – survives. All areas have elaborate ornamental ceilings. What make the Red Lion special are the superlative etched and cut mirrors which line the walls on the right and at the rear. They create brilliant, glittering reflections which conjure up a magical atmosphere far removed from the prosaic world of everyday life beyond the pub. They may have been part of the 1871 refit but are perhaps more likely to have been installed slightly later, possibly in the 1890s when such excesses were more common. Fortunately one original connecting door (between the rear area and the stairs) has been retained and its coloured, patterned glass testifies to how the two ‘missing’ doors must have looked. Other decorative glass – such as that within six panels at the top of the bar-back – contains etched patterns with gold-tinted inlays.
The bar counter has drop-down panels for servicing beer engines in former times – you can see the remains of keyholes. In the rear area, the counter swells out pleasingly – quite unnecessary but a nice touch. The gantry above the counter is a modern but sympathetic addition. Currently leased to Fuller’s, the pub is owned by the Crown Estate – i. e. King Charles. To its credit the pub has refused to do what so many pubs have done - convert the upper floors to flats which are entirely separate from the pub. Instead they contain an office, a kitchen and living quarters for the manager.
A national treasure – the Red Lion has one of the most spectacular late-Victorian pub interiors anywhere – small but beautifully formed! It is claimed there’s been a pub on the site since 1788. The present building went up in 1821 and was given a new pub front in 1871 by architect W. H. Rawlings though the fittings may be rather later. The actual trading area of the pub is tiny and surrounds a central serving area. Yet a century ago, small as it is, it would have been divided up into various separate areas – the three outside doorways are proof of that as are the names ‘public bar’ and ‘private bar’ in the door glass. The front part was probably divided up into three while the back area has always been a single space.
What makes the Red Lion so special are the superlative etched and cut mirrors lining two of the walls. They create brilliant, glittering reflections to conjure up a magical atmosphere far removed from the prosaic world of everyday life beyond the pub. The picture is completed by an ornamental ceiling and frieze in both areas. The bar counter at the front has drop-down panels for servicing beer engines in former times – you can see the remains of the keyholes. Don’t be fooled by the gantry fittings sitting on the counter top – like nearly all such features they are modern work (see how fresh the woodwork looks).