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Jan 10

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 9: The Champion, Wells Street WC1

FT7 comments • 1,385 views

For a long, long time my Default London Pub was the Blue Posts on Newman Street. I’m a big fan of the Sam Smiths brand, and the BPNS had it all: cheap, cosy, usually full of people I knew and – most importantly – just around the corner from my office at 76 Oxford Street. When someone suggested going to the Champion one day, just to make a change, I was flabberghasted. Not ONLY would I have to walk a whole hundred yards further to my pub destination,  but… well, it wouldn’t be the SAME, would it? I’d found somewhere I liked, and now it seemed that I would be untimely ripp’d from its warm, comforting embrace. I approached the Champion with a fair measure of resentment.

A few years on, and I don’t work on Oxford Street any more. There are plenty of nice pubs near my place of work, and yet whenever the idea of meeting up ‘in town’ is mooted, the Champ has become my Default London Pub. It’s the pub where I meet people for post-job interview nerve soothers, the pub that people ‘just passing through’ for a couple of hours are directed to, the pub that’s  even more emblematic of my long-held love of Fitzrovia than even the BPNS. The fare is typical Sam Smiths – cheap, tasty ale (though the ale in all SS houses seems a lot more SPARKLED than it used to be, ugh), decent-sized bowls of chips for a couple of quid, Scintilla and McCoy’s crisps, etc etc etc. But even if you’re not a fan of the Sam Smith phenomenon, you’d be a curmedgeonly soul indeed not to be taken by the surroundings. Like most SS houses, care and attention is paid to fixtures and fittings, but here even more so; the floor is gorgeously tiled and the stained glass windows – yes, that’s full-sized STAINED GLASS WINDOWS – that surround the pub on two sides feature gloriously-quaint illustrations of bygone sporting heroes (presumably sporting champions). I know nothing about sport, but I do like to see a stained-glass rendering of a man in an old-fashioned stripey one-piece bathing suit. And possibly also a monocle, though my beer-fugged memory may have just invented that detail. And that extra hundred yards or so assumes a new importance when approaching Fitzrovia from Oxford Circus Station: somehow the Champ seems so much more central than the BPNS, off the ‘nice’ bit of Oxford Street rather than the bit that’s been all but demolished by the Crossrail project (and which my friend T described as looking like something out of 28 Days Later).

I’ll be honest: I don’t go to the Champ all that often, these days. Last week a couple of us undertook a fact-finding mission to make sure that my memories of its greatness weren’t all made of flimsy nostalgia. And what we found was a wholly decent, roomy pub with SECRET TOILETS (I’d only remembered the Ladies right by the dartboard downstairs, visits to which always added an extra frisson to the evening on nights when the arrer-fans were out in force). Service was prompt and friendly, those chips are still tasty, you still, even in the days of Credit Crunch Britain, get 2 pints of Sovereign for under 4 quid. Possibly a case of style over substance, then (but come on, you guys! Stained glass windows featuring gentleman golfers!) but for handiness and reliability I say that you can’t beat the Champ.

Comments

  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I think the Champ is my favourite Sam Smiths. The beer is almost always drinkable (unlike the BPNS which has left me feeling queasy after ONE PINT OF OB on pretty much every visit in the last 3 years), there’s always somewhere to sit at lunchtime and it’s within belching distance of my office :)

  2. 2
    Pete on 1 Feb 2010 #

    That said Kat, belching distance for you is about a mile!

  3. 3
    Ewan on 1 Feb 2010 #

    It’s certainly a very useful SS for my work, and I think the stained-glass windows give it the edge over the others round these parts. (Also, it’s in W1.)

  4. 4
    JonnyB on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I used to work next door. They were always very understanding in allowing me to take trays of beer back to the office, letting me return the glasses the following day.

    I will forever disagree with you about Sam Smiths, however.

  5. 5
    Alex on 2 Feb 2010 #

    The Champ was one of our press pubs when I was at Mobile Comms International (the publisher, T&F Informa, is just round the corner on Mortimer Street). Great little pub, even if the OB isn’t hand-pumped:-) Upstairs was good for spotting babes in the street.

    The stained glass faces are an odd collection – a mixture of sportsmen and, as I recall, several Liberal politicians and one viceroy of India.

  6. 6
    Kat but logged out innit on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Informa! You know Snow daddy me Snow me I go play ’em! I sing that every time I walk past their office.

  7. 7
    Katie G (but logged out) on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Kat, I TOTALLY used to sing that when going past Informa as well…

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