The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

It's been a while since I hooked up with my old pals from TTPCom and Tuesday night seemed as good a time as any to see them. Nick needed to come in via Waterloo, Mark from Canary Wharf, and Mike from Waterbeach, so everyone agreed to meet at Moorgate. And what better place than that old historic watering-hole named Old Doctor Butler's Head?

Since the English banned smoking in public areas, including inns, taverns, and restaurants this summer, it has been a particularly pleasurable experience to socialise in a pub. No longer do I have to stagger home weighed down not only by litres of alcohol but also by lingering fumes of nicotinous smoke, a fug enveloping my hair and suffused through my clothes. One is still repelled by the insolence of City types in their favourite bars, but at least they don't breathe chemicals into one's face. So I waited with equanimity for Nick (lost, again, en route), smiling beatifically at the publican every time he wanted to know what draught he could serve me with.

The pub certainly was atmospheric. Check out a picture of it here. Old wood beams abounded, people milled about in a crush next to the bartender, the conversation was overlaid with the whispers of ghosts. Old Butler, William, an untrained hack became so popular in the seventeenth century with his patent medicines that he was made physician to the king, James I. In particular, his ales in aid of gastric ailments were wildly in demand, and he acquired a chain of pubs by permitting only those displaying an image of his head to purvey the tipple. He was known for other eccentric cures: firing pistols near an unsuspecting epileptic to scare the illness out of him, or dropping plague victims into cold water to cure them of the black death.

The current building is the only one surviving of Butler's empire. Originally it was built in 1610 and gutted in the Great Fire of 1666. It has suffered multiple renovations and restorations, and the frontage today is possibly a mock-Tudor built in Victorian times.

A beer everybody seemed to be drinking was the Spitfire. Indeed, the pub abounds with allusions to the mighty little fighter of the Second World War, and the eponymous ale. There are even reproductions of a funny, controversial (and banned) advertising campaign called Bottle of Britain all along the corridor to the gents' toilet.


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