The best bars are empty. And empty bars close, which is a shame. I used to like drinking Polish vodka in the Russia House, up from Dupont Circle, in Washington, DC. The site is currently shuttered because some over zealous internationally correct ideologues smashed it up after Russia invaded Ukraine and it hasn’t come back.
The Russia House never seemed to be that popular. It had a sort of fake glamour and contrived shadiness that I liked. I could never afford the caviar, so the prostitutes left me alone. DC snobs would call it “basic” — but then DC snobs are basic, so who cares what they think? I hope it has reopened by the next time I’m in Washington.
Spare a thought, too, dear Americans, for British pubs. The cost-of-drinking crisis over here is so out of hand that thousands of pubs are expected to shut down this winter. That’ll be sad. Pub ownership is an eccentric past time at best. It’s now ruinous for almost everyone.
There are still more than 600 British pubs called the Red Lion — many in and around Westminster. It’s something to do with 1600s and James I (and VI of Scotland) ordering that the Scottish heraldic lion be put on all taverns and inns. Stick around London long enough and you realize the canny wee Scots control a lot. And the Scottish relationship with alcohol is something else.
Most Westminster drinkers have their favorite Red Lion. Mine is on Crown Passage, which is a sordid little alley off Pall Mall. It has a shoddy red carpet and scratched darkwood furniture. The landlady usually has peroxide hair, a fake tan and an affably brisk manner. There’s no music because music is annoying. The rooms upstairs are barely used and might be called “intimate” by a generous soul on TripAdvisor. You get a sense of Regency hangover from the place, as if you were in a Patrick Hamilton novel. There is a sort of Cockney grubbiness that swallows you up. It must survive. Go drink there, if you’re ever in London.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2022 World edition.