A Walking Tour of London's Most Literary Quarter—with Pub Stops

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A Walking Tour of London's Most Literary Quarter—with Pub Stops

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Bedford Square, with its own residents-only garden, is one of Bloomsbury’s trademark green spaces.

Bedford Square, with its own residents-only garden, is one of Bloomsbury’s trademark green spaces.


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street Journal

THE INTELLECTUAL HEART of London has been beating faster of late. North of Soho, the Bloomsbury neighborhood, with its orderly garden squares of soot-blackened-brick Georgian townhouses, was the stamping ground of the Bloomsbury Group, a maverick set of writers, artists and philosophers that included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and E.M. Forster. Dorothy Parker famously quipped that they “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.”

A Walking Tour of London’s Most Literary Quarter—with Pub Stops



Illustration:

Katie Vernon

Recent TV shows and art exhibitions have refreshed Brits’ interest in the group, and a three-year refurbishment of the landmark Bloomsbury Hotel—a dead-ringer for a doll’s house—has just been completed. Meanwhile, changes are afoot at the venerable British Museum across the street, where the Rosetta Stone is the headline exhibit, and between the leafy squares and University of London buildings, forward-thinking eating, drinking and shopping establishments are germinating. Better yet: The area’s many attractions will be more easily accessible when a new rail station opens at Tottenham Court Road next year, slashing the trip from Heathrow in half to just 30 minutes. Here, a guide.


A Guide to Bookish Bloomsbury

Where to shop, eat, drink and soak up the history of this London neighborhood

 
 
New galleries will open at the venerable British Museum next museum.
Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street Journal
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Stay

1. BLOOMSBURY HOTEL

Built in 1923 by Bloomsbury Square’s resident architect, Edwin Lutyens, this neo-Georgian pile slumped into relative obscurity for decades. Now, fresh from a redesign by interiors ace Martin Brudnizki—also behind the reno of New York’s Beekman hotel—the Bloomsbury Hotel is back in the catbird seat. Neighbors and visitors alike gravitate to the glossy, coral-colored new bar with giant Murano-glass chandeliers, while the cozy, guests-only sitting room looks made for a new Bloomsbury Set. Bedrooms are decked out in floral wallpaper and art deco-style furniture with decadent marble bathrooms (from about $265 a night, doylecollection.com).

The Bloomsbury Hotel’s guest-only sitting room.

The Bloomsbury Hotel’s guest-only sitting room.


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

2. CHARLOTTE STREET HOTEL

One of Firmdale Hotels’s first London addresses, this place fetes its locale with original artworks and furniture by Bloomsbury Set members Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, in a context of wildly patterned wallpapers and fabrics. In January, the hotel launches a Bloomsbury Set Afternoon Tea, featuring savories and sweets inspired by the group’s teatime favorites, such as the Eccles cakes said to have fueled Leonard’s and Virginia Woolf’s typesetting and printing sessions at their publishing house, Hogarth Press. From about $415 a night, firmdalehotels.com

Eat and Drink

3. NOBLE ROT

Borne of a hip wine and food magazine of the same name, this newish wine bar and restaurant offers a well-rounded list, from an $8 glass of Spanish Casa Castillo to $2,000 bottles of Burgundy. Many British wines are also on hand, along with a seasonal, modern British menu to match, including Cornish hake with celeriac purée.51 Lamb’s Conduit St., noblerot.co.uk

Whitstable oysters at Bloomsbury’s Noble Rot.

Whitstable oysters at Bloomsbury’s Noble Rot.


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

4. CIGALA

This low-key corner restaurant with utilitarian looks serves as a classy canteen for local workers from the publishing and legal industries. Chef Jake Hodges was a co-founder of Moro, an influential North African-Spanish restaurant in nearby Clerkenwell, and his Spanish menu, made with local ingredients, runs the tapas-to-paella gamut while making room for less predictable dishes, such as pigeon breast with quince. 54 Lamb’s Conduit St., cigala.co.uk

5. LA FROMAGERIE

You can have your artisanal cheese to stay or go at this brand-new restaurant and shop, and there’s a thoughtfully strategic selection of European wines to accompany it. Order the house fondue or a cheese board—the British and Irish array includes Bosworth Ash Log, made with milk from a herd of just 100 Staffordshire goats. 52 Lamb’s Conduit St., lafromagerie.co.uk

6. THE LAMB

This classic pub was built in 1729 but its facade—green tiles, hanging baskets, a giant lantern—dates from its Victorian-era refurb. Young’s cask ales, first brewed in London in the 1550s, are on tap. The pub has had illustrious literary patrons over the years, including Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and friends, and Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who came here for dates. 94 Lamb’s Conduit St., thelamblondon.com

The Lamb pub.

The Lamb pub.


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

7. REDEMPTION ROASTERS

The beans at this new coffee shop were roasted behind bars at Aylesbury Prison, just outside London—it’s part of a rehabilitation program which gives young offenders roastery and barista training. The beans are sourced from small farms in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. 84b Lamb’s Conduit St., redemptionroasters.com

8. HONEY CO

A meal at this tiny Middle Eastern restaurant feels like a family gathering. It’s run by husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer and its outsize reputation stems both from the jovial atmosphere and the care that goes into the preparation of every delicious dish, from the spiced cinnamon and squash falafel to slow-cooked lamb with saffron rice. 25 Warren St, honeyandco.co.uk

Shop

9. PENTREATH & HALL

A tiny trove of brightly hued homewares and antiques, Pentreath & Hall is London’s answer to New York’s John Derian. Among the lust objects on sale are crystal tumblers inlaid with gilt letters and symbols; ionic column-pottery candlesticks; and needlework cushions in geometric patterns. 17 Rugby St., pentreath-hall.com

Pentreath & Hall

Pentreath & Hall


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

10. SCHOOL OF LIFE

Pop philosopher Alain de Botton—contemporary Bloomsbury’s answer to Bertrand Russell—is on a mission to develop his compatriots’ emotional intelligence, and the School of Life is his shopfront. If you don’t have time for a class (subjects include “How to Make Love Last” and “How to Fail”) stock up on “Emotional Baggage” tote bags, kindness prompt cards and Utopia scented candles. 70 Marchmont St., theschooloflife.com

11. FOLK

When it opened a decade ago, this minimalist British men’s clothing shop was the pioneer on a street now well known for its menswear stores, and the wares are still designed upstairs. Find chunky crew- and roll-neck sweaters, baggy pants and flannel shirts in an autumnal rainbow, or head to the women’s shop two doors down, where this season’s palette is millennial pink and navy. 49 and 53 Lamb’s Conduit St., folkclothing.com

12. PERSEPHONE BOOKS

Bloomsbury isn’t short on bookshops, but Persephone is in a league of its own. Founded in 1998, it both publishes and sells “lost” or out-of-print fiction and nonfiction, predominantly by female interwar writers. Titles include “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” by Winifred Watson, which became a best seller and later a film, and Virginia Woolf’s “Flush” and “A Writer’s Diary.” Apart from a handful of titles, Persephone Books all come with an elegant gray cover. Check out the table of “Books we wished we’d published,” too. 59 Lamb’s Conduit St., persephonebooks.co.uk.

Persephone Books

Persephone Books


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

See

13. THE FOUNDLING MUSEUM

Founded by Thomas Coram in 1739, a time when 1,000 babies were abandoned in London each year, the Foundling Hospital was the U.K.’s first children’s charity and, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of artist William Hogarth, also its first public art gallery. Among the exhibits are a case of “admission tokens”—coins, bracelets and medals that identified babies, and a list of the extraordinary new names given to the first foundlings, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Oliver Cromwell and Dionysus Warren—as if being abandoned wasn’t punishment enough. Paintings by many Georgian greats coexist with an impressive collection of contemporary art. Look out for Michael Craig-Martin’s pop-art tricycle. 40 Brunswick Square, foundlingmuseum.org.uk

A Thomas-Benjamin Kennington painting at the Foundling Museum.

A Thomas-Benjamin Kennington painting at the Foundling Museum.


Photo:

Dylan Thomas for The Wall Street

14. THE BRITISH MUSEUM

New galleries displaying archaeology, textiles and decorative arts from the Islamic world will open at this gargantuan museum next year. Meanwhile, don’t miss the “Living with Gods” exhibition, featuring ancient Zoroastrianism, Tibetan Buddhist and Chinese Miao artifacts, or the Norman Foster-designed Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, the largest covered public space in Europe. Great Russell St., britishmuseum.org

15-17. BEDFORD SQUARE, TAVISTOCK SQUARE AND GORDON SQUARE

Leave time to stroll around Bloomsbury’s trademark garden squares. Of particular note are Bedford Square (15), the only completely intact Georgian square remaining, with a private, residents-only garden at its center; Tavistock Square (16), where Charles Dickens lived and wrote “Bleak House,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and Hard Times” and the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press was based from 1924 to 1940; and Gordon Square (17), another key Bloomsbury Set location, where Virginia and her siblings lived at no. 48 alongside economist and group member John Maynard Keynes.

By | 2017-12-25T14:45:22+00:00 December 25th, 2017|Comments Off on A Walking Tour of London's Most Literary Quarter—with Pub Stops