The Princess Louise Pub
Holborn, Central London

The Princess Louise pub boasts perhaps the most impressive pub interior in the whole of London.

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Having somehow survived the threat of demolition in the mid 20th century, and the trend for 'refurbishment' in the late 20th century, it has now been beautifully restored to its original high Victorian style. It's a 'must see' if you're in the area.

The Princess Louise Pub at 208-209 High Holborn, London, is a late Victorian time capsule.The Princess Louise Pub at 208-209 High Holborn, London, is a late Victorian time capsule.
From the outside the Princess Louise Public House on High Holborn looks pleasant enough - substantial and proud, with its name in gold lettering on a black background. But it is only when you step inside that you realise you've discovered a real historic gem. The sumptuous late Victorian décor is intact in pretty much every detail. There are tiles, mirrors and glass panels, a mosaic floor and an elaborate ceiling. There are panelled and carved mahogany partitions. The huge 'island bar' has marble-effect (actually cast iron!) columns with golden Corinthian capitals, and a central arch made of polished dark wood and topped with a clock and finials. It's all a mad, typically Victorian mishmash of styles and materials, which nevertheless somehow all comes together to look amazing.

Tiles, mirrors, mosaics and an ornate ceiling - walking into the Princess Louise Pub in Holborn is like entering a jewel box.Tiles, mirrors, mosaics and an ornate ceiling - walking into the Princess Louise is like entering a jewel box.
The building that houses the Princess Louise was built in 1872, however the interior dates from a remodelling of 1891. It is often described as a 'former gin palace', but although the décor with its mirrors and sparkle is 'gin palace style', this was always a pub for ale drinkers (in fact gin palaces were a phenomenon of the early to mid 19th century, and gin had become much less popular by the late 19th century). Two World Wars changed people's taste, and by the 1950s Victoriana was completely out of vogue. The wood and glass partitions that divided the pub into a series of rooms were removed, but by some stroke of good luck the tile work, mirrors and central bar were left largely intact.

I remember visiting about 10 years ago, and the interior was impressive even as one large open space. But in 2007 a massive restoration (which saw the pub closed for around nine months) reinstated the partitions, therefore recreating the original layout of corridors and various sized rooms. It now looks magnificent and is worth a visit, I would saw, even if you don't drink beer!

The cosy mahogany and etched glass booths in the Princess Louise Pub in Holborn comfortably seat about eight people.The cosy mahogany and etched glass booths comfortably seat about eight people.
Two entrances, one to the left and one on the right, open into narrow corridors with colourful tiled panels and friezes, mosaic floors, stuccoed ceilings and elaborate light fittings (the whole pub, I assume, would have originally been gas lit). It's like entering a jewel box, or a particularly opulent stately home. Opening off the corridors are a series of booths or 'snugs' with dark wood partitions and wonderful etched and cut glass screens. Each of the booths has seating for about eight people and has direct access to the bar.

Interestingly, whereas these booths were, I suppose, originally intended to separate people, and protect the better-off patrons from 'lesser sorts', they now bring people together. There's a certain sense of shared ownership that comes from having a seat in a booth, and this makes it easy to strike up conversations. To reinforce the class difference between those drinking in the saloon and those in the tap bar, there used to be a price difference of several pennies on the beer served in each room. I wonder if this was also the case with the booths - a penny or two added to the price to keep them 'exclusive'?

The mahogany 'island bar' in the Princess Louise Pub in Holborn is original, and very impressive!The mahogany 'island bar' is original, and very impressive!
Thankfully, there are no longer price differences, and this is a cheap pub - surprising, given the Princes Louise's location in central London. As a 'tied' pub, owned and operated by the Samuel Smith Brewery, the range of beer is limited to the brewery's own products. You won't find any Guinness here, and there are just four wines on the wine list. If you don't fancy the ale and lager on tap, try a bottle of Oatmeal Stout. In contrast to the beers on tap here, it's not cheap at just over £4 for a pint bottle, but one of our favourites.

In addition to the booths there are several larger spaces, including a pleasant room at the front, and a large room at the back. There's a comfortable dining room upstairs (closed Sundays). Disappointingly, it's far less ornate than the ground floor, but has an interesting display of pictures of Princess Louise on the walls.

The gents' toilets in the Princess Louise Pub in Holborn boast marble urinals and original tiles and fittings.The gents' toilets boast marble urinals and original tiles and fittings.
The gents' toilets, boasting marble urinals, also date back to the 19th century. They are of sufficient historical and architectural interest that they have their own formal 'listing' and are therefore protected from modification or destruction. However, while men can relieve themselves in Victorian splendour, the women's toilets are modern and completely featureless. As a fellow visitor commented - they wouldn't be out of place in a prison. What a disappointment! And were there originally no facilities for ladies I wonder? Were women's toilets in pubs another of the many things that the Victorians didn't approve of?

The whole pub has real atmosphere and charm - that is if it isn't too busy (it can get unpleasantly crowded, and a bit rowdy, after work on weekdays, and particularly on Friday and Saturday nights when it's often a destination for stag nights and organised beer crawls). There are no wide screen TVs blasting out sport or CNN, there's no music blaring, and - amazingly - there doesn't even seem to be a fruit machine (although the horrible things are so ubiquitous these days that I wonder if I missed it?).

If you want to enjoy the architecture with a quiet drink, then time your visit carefully - mid-afternoon is good, as is early Sunday evening. Sit and take in your surroundings... and travel back in time for a few moments.

The mahogany screens between the booths and the corridor in the Princess Louise Pub in Holborn are elaborately carved.The mahogany screens between the booths and the corridor are elaborately carved.

Looking from a booth into one of the corridors, lined with mirrors, tiled panels and friezes. Princess Louise Pub, Holborn, London.Looking from a booth into one of the corridors, lined with mirrors, tiled panels and friezes.

The sign of the Princess Louise pub in Holborn carries a portrait of Princess Louise, with the name in proud golden lettering.The pub sign carries a portrait of Princess Louise, with the name in proud golden lettering.

Who was Princess Louise?

Princess Louise (1848-1939), Marchioness of Lorne and Duchess of Argyll, lived a somewhat unconventional life and was quite a celebrity - and a subject of gossip - in her day. A daughter of Queen Victoria (the sixth of the Queen's nine children), she was beautiful and fashionable, and a talented artist and sculptor. Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret knew her as 'Auntie', and often visited her in her retirement apartments in Kensington Palace.

Princess Louise (1848-1939) in a photographic portrait taken circa 1870s.Princess Louise (1848-1939) in a photographic portrait taken circa 1870s.
Princess Louise undertook various public duties, such as the official opening in 1886 of Paddington Street Gardens in Marylebone, however I haven't been able to discover why this pub was named after her. By convention, pubs are not named after living members of the royal family (pubs named The Prince of Wales or Prince William are always names in honour of previous holders of the name or title). So presumably this pub originally had a different name, and became the Princess Louise sometime after 1939 when she died at the grand age of 91.

Essentials: The Princess Louise Pub, Holborn

Address: 208-209 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7BW
Nearest Tube: Holborn, Covent Garden or Tottenham Court Road