Memories · Notes from West London

The Blue Posts

In the 1980s there were six different pubs called The Blue Posts in Central London, all within a mile of Piccadilly Circus. I discovered the first, in Rupert Street, one Saturday afternoon. I had arranged to meet an old school-friend to see a movie at one of the big theatres on Leicester Square around 3pm and wanted to fit in a 1pm screening of something else beforehand.

Back then Rupert Street (at the side of the Trocadero, between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square) had a small cinema called the Metro and that’s where I was heading for my lunch-time movie. But the cinema was closed. City Limits (which many of us bought instead of Time Out, for various right-on reasons) had provided me with an inaccurate listing. It was Lent and I had given up booze, so one option for whiling away two hours (sitting in a pub and having a few beers) was closed to me. In any case, although I was quite happy to sit in a cinema on my own I never enjoyed being in a pub on my own for any length of time.

Just down the road from the Metro, on the corner of Rupert Court, was The Blue Posts. I planned to have a soft drink and check the cinema listings again to see if there was anything on that would finish before 3pm. The ground floor bar was more like something you’d see in France or Italy. Everybody there was drinking coffee, nobody was on the beer yet. The handful of punters were sat, singly, at small tables, reading. In the 1980s coffee machines in pubs were very rare but The Blue Posts had a reputation for its Irish Coffee and they brewed coffee all day long, or rather they brewed it until they closed at 3pm and again from 5.30pm till closing time. There was no all-day drinking in those days. Even in the West End pubs shut for at least two hours in the afternoon.

I felt immediately at home, ordered a coffee and a fizzy water, and sat with my copy of City Limits to plan my next two hours. After that I was a regular at the place: coffee drinkers were welcome and, after Lent had ended, I occasionally got rather drunk there. It was also a good place to meet up with people in town, as I noted in this piece from last year.

Around that time I read a small piece in Time Out (which I used to flick through in the local library to check its more reliable listings pages) saying that The Blue Posts was where the cool kids met up before going off clubbing till the early hours. Previously they met up in the Spice of Life on Cambridge Circus but now the Rupert Street bar was the favoured one. I didn’t see much evidence of this but I liked the idea.

The Blue Posts’ name came from the days when the plague was a regular threat in what is now Central London. The posts would be erected to show the boundaries of the plague areas and would be connected with rope or other material to form a barrier, rather like the yellow and black tape that marks out crime scenes these days. Or at least that’s what I recall reading back in the 1980s, inside the pub itself. I have quoted this story often but never tried to verify it. A quick search reveals that there are two very different theories about the name, both of them summarized in this post from Londonist.com, and neither of them relating to the plague. Either the posts marked the boundaries of the royal hunting grounds around Soho Fields or they indicated that sedan chairs could be hired from this location. As the Londonist.com post says this explains the picture outside one of the other Blue Posts pubs, in Bennet Street, round the back of the Ritz.

I went to the Bennet Street Blue Posts a few times in the late 1990s. It was an occasional meeting place for friends who worked in Mayfair at the time. One evening I was so infuriated by the condescending manner of two different bar-tenders that I vowed never to go there again. (I relented, once, in 2008 and had a quick pint there with a former boss after a discussion about pub names. We wanted to check if it was still there.)

One of the six Blue Posts, on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Hanway Street, is long gone. I only went there once. Also on the north side of Oxford Street, on Newman Street, is a Blue Posts run by the Sam Smith’s brewery. I last had a beer there in 2014, when working nearby. There are some lovely Sam Smith’s pubs in Central London (the Chandos near Trafalgar Square and The John Snow in Soho come to mind) but I can’t spend a whole evening on any of their ales. I have tried but after a couple of pints I invariably want a different flavour.

Last week, during the Christmas holidays, my son and I went to town for the afternoon. As I noted in last month’s piece about our Boxing Day pub crawl, he loves going to the pub. I decided to take him to the two Blue Posts that I haven’t mentioned yet and finish up at the original one in Rupert Street. The first place we went to, on Kingly Street, was child-friendly enough and I explained what I believed to be the origins of the pub’s name to him. The next Blue Posts is a short walk away, on the corner of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street. I have only been there a handful of times and have a happy memory of getting drunk there one weekday evening, a month before my wedding. Joe Strummer was playing at the HMV Store on Oxford Street and we thought we could get in by turning up early enough. No chance, it was one of those wristband-only performances, so we ended up in this Blue Posts and I had maybe a pint of Guinness more than I should have. This time round it didn’t seem especially child-friendly. I also wanted my son to have more than a 5-minute walk between his drinks of lime and soda and J2O. We checked out the Christmas scene in Leicester Square and made our way through Chinatown to Rupert Street, only to find that my beloved Blue Posts, my favourite bar in town, is closed. There is nothing to indicate whether it will reopen as a bar but I doubt it. Two different Intrepid Foxes, two different 12 Bar Clubs, the Pipeline in Middlesex Street and now the original Blue Posts, all closed. And I didn’t even get the chance to show my son around it. Farewell Blue Posts Rupert Street. If you do reopen I’ll see you soon but in the meantime I have had to amend my piece about where to meet people.

 

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