Two Chairmen

Two Chairmen, London pubs, WestminsterWhy on earth would anyone suggest that I might like to visit a pub?  More to the point, why would someone I’ve never met suggest I might like to visit a pub?  But that’s exactly what my ether-friend, Adrian, over on Google Plus did.  It was a few years ago, when A Bit About Britain was in its infancy, and up popped Adrian with a fine picture of what looked like a neat little boozer, the Two Chairmen in London.  “Oh”, I commented, “That looks like a neat little boozer.”  And Adrian came back with, “Maybe there’s an article there for you, sometime in the future.”  He went on to explain that the Two Chairmen was, if not the oldest, then one of the oldest pubs in Westminster.  And, situated opposite the notorious Cockpit Steps, just off Birdcage Walk – named for James I’s aviaries – it has an interesting past.  So it was the history, rather than anything to do with beer, that prompted Adrian’s suggestion.  Mind you, he works in advertising so I figured he might have had an angle somewhere.

Anyway, I made a note of it because Adrian seemed like a nice bloke and, in truth, I have been known to visit pubs – just for research purposes, you understand (pubs are nasty things, full of beer and temptation) – and I do find myself in London occasionally.

Two Chairmen, historic pubs, UKThe Two Chairman is a short walk to the west of Parliament Square, in Dartmouth Street, which bisects Queen Anne’s Gate and Old Queen Street.  It is indeed opposite Cockpit Steps, the alleged haunted site of the Royal Cockpit – a dodgy 18th century cockfighting venue.  A little off the beaten tourist track, it’s a relatively peaceful, but handy, location to have a watering-hole: close to all of the capital’s Westminster attractions (and essentials such as New Scotland Yard and the Chilean Embassy) as well as being in a Disney-like part of London, full of smart Regency town-houses – all big shiny doors, gloss-black wrought-iron, polished brass and door entry systems.

The pub gets its name from the chairmen who worked sedan chairs – single-seat carriages carried on poles by two strong men – taking their wealthy clients to the cockfighting and waiting in the pub for their next fare.  The pub’s website once claimed that this practice might be the origin of the expression “cheerio”, because customers wanting a sedan chair would shout, “Chair Ho”.  Actually, from what I can make out, “Cheerio”, meaning “good wishes”, “goodbye” or used as a toast, comes from joining “cheery” with “O!”. As you do.

Abbot Ale, London Pride, Two Chairmen, Westminster pubsThere’s a belief, dating back to at least the early 19th century, that sedan chairs originated in the French town of Sedan.  In fact, chairs supported by poles, canopied or otherwise, have been used in various cultures in Europe and the Far East since ancient times.  They became popular in Britain from the late 17th century and the name is more likely to be derived from the Latin verb sedere, to sit.

All that aside, I did engineer a visit to the Two Chairman.  We came upon it via Whitehall and St James’s Park and found it to be an unpretentious, clean, traditional, London pub, clearly frequented by a number of regulars; I liked it.  To be sure, it is no quaint village hostelry; but then neither is it a brash, soulless, bar – though, unfortunately, it does have a TV.  Most importantly, it served good beer; just to be sure, I had several pints of Fuller’s London Pride (which seemed to improve with each glass) and I’m advised that the Merlot was pretty decent too.  It being lunch time, we felt it only right to try the food – which was of the no-nonsense pub grub variety, tasty and plentiful.  We had fish and chips, steak and ale pie and chicken pie – I should mention that there were three of us.  The service was cheerful and friendly and, despite the fact that the place was doing a brisk trade, everything arrived promptly.  I will be back.  One day, though, I will find out why it is that loos in the basements of older pubs in London all seem to exude an aroma similar to that of a river estuary at low tide…

Two Chairmen, pubs of London, Greene KingJust to see what other people thought of the Two Chairmen, I had a quick look on Trip Adviser and saw one comment suggesting it was really only suitable for adults.  I have to agree, but wanted to ask what sort of masochist would want to take their children to a grown-up pub in central London anyway?  Family-friendly is all very well, but it’s a different market; and, personally, the last thing I want when I’m enjoying a jar and a bit of conversation is a load of screaming kids running amok (even my own).  Let’s be clear: one of the Two Chairmen’s selling points is that it has nowhere for children to play.  Chiefly, though, its location close to so many attractions, yet obscure enough to avoid becoming a typical tourist pub, is hard to beat. A further inducement to visit, if you’re that way inclined, is that it’s close enough to the Houses of Parliament to lure in the odd politician; and, to illustrate the point, it is alleged that Nigel Farage and Liberal Democrat MPs have been spotted quaffing there (not necessarily together).

Two Chairmen, historic pubs, UKI subsequently discovered that Adrian was chairman of Red C, a marketing company whose clients included the business that owned the Two Chairman.  So, well done Adrian; I hope business is booming and you’re still playing the drums.  Since my visit, the pub’s brand, Taylor Walker, has been acquired by brewery and hospitality giant, Greene King.  So I’m assuming that the London Pride has been replaced with Greene King’s Abbot – another extremely palatable ale; either one would certainly receive a welcome from me at my own little local, the Olde Ruptured Ducke.

If you’re desperate for more information, visit the Two Chairman’s sadly uninspiring website.  The nearest tube station is St James’s Park – District (Green) and Circle (Yellow) lines, but Westminster – District, Circle and Jubilee (grey) lines – is pretty close too.

As with other articles on A Bit About Britain, rumours that I have been paid a modest fee of £2000 plus expenses to write this unbiased review are, alas, untrue.

41 thoughts on “Two Chairmen

  1. Lisa G.

    Interesting tidbit about the cheerio/chair ho! I can see your point about being glad there isn’t anything there to entice children – I wouldn’t want to take kids into a bar. (Glad to hear you didn’t eat all three meals mentioned 😯 )

  2. milliethom

    I love old pubs with plenty of history behind them. This one sounds perfect, although perhaps not so good for people with young children. Your descriptions of the place and what it offers customers make it sound cosy and welcoming. I’ll have to ask my son, who lives in London, if he knows of it. Great post, Mike.

  3. quinn

    Sounds like my kind of location: beaten-path adjacent. Pity about the television, though…one side effect of not having a television at home in many years is that I have zero tolerance for abrasive programs. Full disclosure: I am the curmudgeon who complained about the inescapable television in a hospital waiting room.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I don’t think I’ve experienced a TV in a hospital waiting room. I guess they’d have to be careful what programmes they showed! And I can imagine just getting involved in some gripping documentary about incurable medical conditions, when my appointment would come round.

      1. quinn

        It was horrible – some sort of daytime “talk show” where people are brought on to complain about each other in a sort of choreographed shouty drama, while the host pretends to be helping them resolve their differences. I had to go out and stand in the hallway. And later pointed out to staff that no one could possibly consider such inescapable background stress to be part of a healing atmosphere.

  4. Fun60

    Familiar with the pub but have not bothered to go in. Tend to avoid those with a TV. However a good review from you could tempt me inside on a cold miserable day looking for somewhere warm for lunch.

  5. artandarchitecturemainly

    No brash, soulless bar for me either! I used to spend 3 weeks in one or two British cities every late-early July, when Australian universities were closed for the winter holidays. It was my mission to drink in a different traditional, well furnished pub after lectures each day.

    London was too big, but I did my best in Cambridge, Ely, Norwich, Lincoln, York etc.

  6. Helen Devries

    .You do take me back! We used to gather there at lunchtime before meetings in the Houses of Parliament…in the days before security. I don’t remember whose beer they served and lunch was not on the menu.

      1. Helen Devries

        All very humdrum….in those days M.P.s would book rooms for meetings and as I was involved in the preparations for the equality laws and in the Labour Party I was there quite often….thus the pub for a drink before going over.

  7. M.B. Henry

    Beer, delicious food… the things we must do for blog research sometimes!! 🙂 Sounds like a very neat pub, I will have to check it out next time I’m in London!

  8. Adrian Rowe

    Good to see this post about the Two Chairmen, Mike – still one of my favourites in London for all the reasons you so astutely noted! We’re no longer working for Greene King since the takeover, hence the very uninspiring website. And I’ve played my last gig on the drums! Keep up the good work. You constantly surprise and inspire me with ideas for days out!

  9. marmeladegypsy

    Well NOW you post about this one — thanks heaps, Mike! I was a mere two blocks from there or closer when we were at the War Rooms — and yes, actually closer as we limped over on a rather drizzly day when a stop at a good pub would have been very nice indeed. Well, definitely on the next time list (and there will be a next time in a year or two). Too bad about the TV. Very good about the no-play area. This is a great post and this sounds like just the kind of pub I like — a real pub, a place that’s not too touristy and is well located. So glad you mentioned this one. (And decent pub grub is always a plus.)

    Thanks for coming over to the Gypsy. I’ll be starting my England posts this coming week, so stop by and compare notes! (They’ll be going on for rather awhile, I fear — interspersed with a bit of holly jolliness!)

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