London is a city of many secrets and hidden gems; and there is something very satisfying about smugly telling your friends you ‘know a place’ they’ll never have heard of when you’re all discussing where to grab drinks on a Friday night. Ye Old Mitre, a pub in Holborn, is the epitome of a ‘hidden’ gem for food and drink in London. It has been lauded as the ‘hardest pub to find in London’ and is definitely the sort of place only people ‘in the know’ visit. Trust me, you’re not stumbling into this one on a whim.
Wanting to join the smug ranks of those ‘in the know’ about Ye Old Miter I decided to take on the challenge of finding it…with a little help from Google Maps. The only problem I faced was that I am, well, directionally challenged to say the least. I have a particular skill for turning what should be five minutes of travel into twenty minute adventures .
Google Maps told me it would be a five minute walk from Chancery Lane Tube station to the pub. The journey looked simple enough; straight on and then left at a big junction. I did as the big blue arrow on the app told me and dutifully trundled along, but I can’t deny I doubted myself and the app (sorry, Google).
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After all, I have previously followed Google Maps to what I thought was an M&S and ended up in the middle of a hotel carpark. I have found myself in front of a fish and chip shop when I’m meant to be at a fireworks display and I have sipped a shameful pint in the completely wrong pub because I didn’t realize there were two with the same name.
What I’m trying to get across here is that I had my reasons for doubting myself and Google Maps, or at least my ability to use Google Maps, but if I wanted to find Ye Old Miter I knew I had to have faith. Following the blue dots on the Google Maps app, I found myself facing what looked like a very private, gated area.
Black and gold gates opened onto Ely Place. People were walking in and out but I couldn’t stop myself from practically tiptoeing – I was certain someone was going to open an expensive looking window and yell at me for being there. Luckily, this didn’t happen. Unluckily, I became convinced I was lost.
Half way up the quiet street Google Maps closed the journey and said I had arrived. Um. I looked around and seemed to be in a residential street with nothing but terraced houses. ‘I’ve done it again’, I thought. But as I spun to make my way back out of the gates I noticed a narrow alleyway.
I quite literally followed the light at the end of the tunnel. On the other side of the alleyway stood a massive barrel basking in the glow of fairy lights. Like Alice following the white rabbit, I spotted a man squeezing into a small door and rushed to follow him. The room I entered was tiny and full to brim with revelers. ‘How did so many people manage to find the hardest pub to find in England?’ I thought. But then again, if I could find the place it’s probably not that difficult. It was 2pm on a Friday afternoon and it seemed half of London had decided to start their weekend early.
A fire blazed behind an iron grate as jolly groups clinked their pints (and promptly spilled most of them in the process). On the other side of the bar was another seating area which had to be accessed through a different door from outside. I quickly determined I wasn’t going to find a seat in either room.
Up some very narrow stairs, however, was a room that was completely empty. It was so quiet I actually went downstairs to check it was open to the public before buying my pint and sitting up there. The room was called the Bishop’s Room and it was full of Elizabethan portraits and even an old music/book stand in the window.
I started to feel like I was in the side room at my old church parish. When someone else walked in they actually apologized for disturbing me like we were in a library or something. Still, if I wanted a livelier atmosphere I knew I could just go downstairs. The place was certainly full of character.
In fact, Ye Old Miter dates back to 1547 and was initially built for the servants of the Bishops of Ely. The real ale pub is famous for having a cherry tree that Queen Elizabeth I once danced around with politician Sir Christopher Hatton. The tree is essential to the structure of the pub and supports the front.
Today, Ye Old Miter is a Fuller’s pub selling wooden cask beer alongside lager and ale on tap as well as spirits and other drinks. A regular pint costs around £6. The kitchen also offers a range of toasties and traditional bar snacks like sausage rolls and pork pies.
Ye Old Miter is open 12pm-11pm on weekdays and closed on weekends.