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The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Street WC2

| Culture, Hidden London, Pubs, Restaurants | 04/02/2016

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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr, Jonny Lee Miller … whether you’ve been glued to the big or small screen, Sherlock Holmes’ cachet has never been higher.  So what better time to relaunch a Sherlock themed pub in the heart of the city?  

That’s precisely what The Sherlock Holmes, just off Trafalgar Square, did on 2nd February 2016 to a very positive reception.  And this isn’t some johnny-come-lately jumping on the zeitgeist.  The historic pub is steeped in Sherlockian tradition.

Even looking beyond the fact you’re drinking a pint of Sherlock House Ale, eating Inspector Lestrade’s Favourite Ploughman’s Lunch and surrounded by an eye-watering amount of memorabilia, being in this pub feels like you’re very much part of something special.  In an increasingly competitive London eating and drinking scene, that goes a long way.  Elementary, my dear What’s On readers.  

The building on Northumberland Street has housed licensed premises since 1736 and, under previous guises (The Northumberland Hotel, then The Northumberland Arms), featured in two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s strongest works: ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and ‘The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor’.

The pub’s literary tradition was forgotten about until 1957, when Whitbread & Co. bought a job lot of Sherlock Holmes exhibits that Marylebone Public Library had collected for the Festival of Britain.  The brewer decided to install the exhibits in a central themed pub to appeal to tourists.  This pub was an obvious choice given its location and history, so was restored to its late Victorian form and reopened as The Sherlock Holmes in 1957.

The modern pub

The pub we find today, now under the ownership of Greene King, continues to operate as a Sherlockian shrine while also appealing to local workers with its range of craft beers and good quality food.

Matthew Bennett, general manager of The Sherlock Holmes.

Matthew Bennett, general manager of The Sherlock Holmes.

Matthew Bennett, the general manager, said: ‘For decades the pub has been a firm favourite with both locals and tourists alike.  We look forward to continuing to welcome Sherlock enthusiasts from all over the world, as well as our regulars and new guests who come to enjoy our friendly pub atmosphere, delicious food and drink – and our quirky and eclectic collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.’

For decades the pub has been a firm favourite with both locals and tourists alike”

This is a difficult balance to strike, but the owners seem largely to have succeeded by cleverly fusing the traditional with the new.

The downstairs lounge bar – with free wifi and big screens for sports events – could easily be mistaken for other establishments, were it not for the great detective posters adorning the walls and quirkily named ales on tap.

GK-TheSherlockHolmes-024

The lovingly maintained sitting room.

That said, with a brighter, more contemporary feel since the refurb, it’s a very pleasant place to enjoy a pint with friends, irrespective of their literary likes.  Due to the variety in stock, don’t expect to leave with your logical reasoning on a par with the pub’s namesake.

The Sherlock Holmes really comes into its own upstairs in the revamped bar and restaurant, where most of the exhibits are found – including the centre-piece: a mock-up of Holmes and Watson’s sitting room at 221B Baker Street.

The Holmes exhibits  

Although the sitting room is striking, many will prefer the more tasteful trinkets stylishly arranged around the dining room.  From original theatre posters to pipe collections, via magnifying glasses of many shapes and sizes – all serve to show that the building is utterly immersed in Conan Doyle’s work.

Given this, it seems unnecessary to work fairly unimaginative references into what is otherwise a solid traditional British dining menu.  But this is a minor criticism, especially if the food is up to the standards set on launch night.  If every dish tastes quite so rich and comforting, call it whatever you like: I’ll eat it.

Roger Johnson of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

Roger Johnson of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

all serve to show that the building is utterly immersed in Conan Doyle’s work” 

The pub has maintained its treasures by harnessing the support of enthusiasts such as The Sherlock Holmes Society of London.  Two of its leading members, husband and wife Roger Johnson and Jean Upton, have looked after the exhibits for around 25 years.

They were among the special guests invited to the launch, enlivened by a murder mystery expertly performed by The Company Upfront.  Mr Johnson was ‘very pleased’ with the refurbishment, which include:

– improved views of the sitting room from the corridor and the dining room;

– dividing the dining area into two to make for a more intimate atmosphere; and

– restoring the stuffed and mounted ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’.

He also praised the pub’s efforts to educate its staff on the history and traditions of the building.  To this end, The Sherlock Holmes now employs a member of The Baker Street Babes – who, through their articles and podcasts, seek to ‘provide a bridge between the older and often intimidating world of Sherlockiana and the newer tech savvy generation of fans’.

Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s fantastic for customers now to have that sort of intimate knowledge of Sherlock Holmes on the ground.’

He’s quite right, of course.  And it would be equally fantastic if the staff continue to impart their knowledge in an understated way, keeping the tourists and locals equally satisfied.  Given The Sherlock Holmes’ tendency to strike the right balance so far, we can only deduce that they’ll manage it.

To find out more about The Sherlock Holmes, visit www.sherlockholmes-stjames.co.uk or find the pub on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sherlockspub and on Twitter @TheSherlockPub.  

To learn more about the Holmes legend, you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of ‘The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany’ written by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton or visit www.bakerstreetbabes.com.  For all your murder mystery needs, read more about The Company Upfront at www.murder-party.co.uk

Matthew Bennett and The Company Upfront celebrate the relaunch.

Matthew Bennett and The Company Upfront celebrate the relaunch.

 

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