Black Friar, Blackfriars

174 Queen Victoria Street
020 7236 5474

This is a remarkable pub which was redesigned in 1905 in an Arts and Crafts style. This was based around the idea of an imaginary medieval or Arthurian past and was a reaction against the grandeur and pomposity of late Victorian design. The theme of the Black Friar is one of jolly medieval monks which appear in bronze on elaborate marble columns and panels, with mirrors, stained glass and mosaics. Ironically it’s easily as grand as any of the Victorian gin palaces the style was reacting against, though perhaps not quite as pompous.

Two of the bronze friars and the exquisite marble panelling can be seen in photo 2 either side of an archway in the main bar. Another room was added in 1917-23 in the same style and with the same high quality craftsmanship (photo 3). This has tongue in cheek slogans around the walls – ‘Seize occasion’, ‘A good thing is soon snatched up’ and ‘Haste is slow’. A stained glass window on the wall of the main bar shows a monk at dawn already at work (photo 5).

The wedge shaped pub was first built in 1872 but the exterior also got the full Arts and Crafts treatment in the 1905 makeover (photo 1).  A statue of a jolly fat monk stands above the corner entrance and a green and gold mosaic fascia with the pub name, street number, ‘Saloon Bar’ and ‘Brandies” runs around the wall. There are a number of copper signs at head height, one advertising Booths Gin with a couple of boozy monks (photo 4).

The inside of the pub appears in Merchant Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice based on E.M. Forster’s posthumously published gay novel, and 
in the 1978 version of The Big Sleep featuring Robert Mitchum. The pub is also the secret entrance to the London HQ in the less than well reviewed 2019 film Men in Black International.

The Black Friar features in many guide books and gets its fair share of tourists during the day but its main clientele is city workers, especially early evening. The pub is a pie specialist with food served all day, and there is a very good range of cask and craft beers.

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