May 10

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 5: The Pillars Of Hercules, Soho

Pumpkin Publog9 comments • 1,749 views

Small poky one room pub whose small pokiness is often accentuated by being in Soho, having a dripping ceiling, a galley bar in the thinnest part of the pub and – oh – a bloke out back playing 45’s with flying barbie dolls dangling from his equipment. Said barbie dolls are usually decked out in fetishwear, a Ken wank fantasy while the slow grind of some early reggae or rock’n’roll ’45’s soundtracks the oddest tiny sized porno ever. But enough of DJ Wheeliebag for now, back to this pub which could so easily be the anonymous back alley pub nestled by sex shops in Soho. It even comes with its own built in back passage for you to slip up. Apparently there has been a pub on this dogleg of Greek Street for hundreds of years. Be that as it may, this is a more turn of the 20th century stab at reliable pubness, and just about convinces with age (holes in ceiling help). But it gets all the basics of being a pub absolutely right.

So how does an old Mitchell & Butler identikit pub make it into this list? With its “pies of the day” and little tabletop fake chalk promotions of Winter Pimms. Well for some reason the Pillars never fit the old M&B mould, despite having to carry that stuff. Its pies were actually really good, and have kept on being good. The beer was always kept well and you were guaranteed an interesting pint or too (and not afraid to just serve bitters which were just bitters). Its pokiness rewarded a smart table grab, its proximity to our corner of Soho helped. Not a pub we have ever picked for a Friday night drink, that would be madness, but Wednesday nights with Wheelie Bag, the odd Saturday afternoon and Lollards Sunday’s.

Here is where pubgoing is all about the personal. We used to record the first series of Freaky Trigger and the Lollards Of Pop on Sunday lunchtimes at Resonances old studios on Denmark Street. The show was on at noon, so we soon fell into a ritual. Cafe Nero at 11.30, studio at 12 and the Pillars of Hercules at 1. Often we were the only people in there for quite some time. We would usually take the booth at the front of the pub to the left and drink for a few hours. We would marvel at the texts of congratulations, dissect our performance and greet fellow travellers as they joined us. It even got a name “Lollards Nights”, it was the show we wanted to do. Second series Resonance moved to London Bridge and Lollards Nights got a new home (The Kings Arms, back up this list), but you never forget the initial venue for something like that and the Pillars was a perfect host. And it remains so now.

Just a few weeks ago I popped in on a Saturday afternoon. It was packed, so we moved on, but I forgave it. It is that kind of pub. For all the times I have cursed the poky toilets in there. For all the times I have not been able to hear a conversation due to Wheelie Bag being a bit too close. For that time when the roof leaked on us and the pub did not believe us. All forgiven for the lovely feeling of walking down the alleyway from Charing Cross Road, under the arch of the pub and back in through its pretendy olde worlde doors. As in its namesake in the Straits of Gibraltar, The Pillars will always abide.

Look it even has a Wikipedia page!


  1. 1
    Matt DC on 22 May 2010 #

    DJ Wheelie Bag aside, I really dislike this pub, it manages to feel cramped no matter where in the pub you are sitting. There are many better Soho pubs…

  2. 2
    Ewan on 23 May 2010 #

    Sadly, perhaps, the roof no longer leaks (they fixed it around New Year) and I’m not entirely certain the DJ Wheeliebag performs there anymore. It’s still poky and has decent beers, though.

  3. 3
    Tom on 23 May 2010 #

    I am pretty sure we didn’t start calling it Lollards Nights until the second series, ftb we were actually on at night then (well, evening). But maybe I’m wrong – the Pillars on a Sunday afternoon certainly saw some of the best of Lollardry though, whatever the name.

  4. 4
    Tracer Hand on 23 May 2010 #

    If pubbing were an Olympic event, snagging a table at the Pillars at night would be one of those tricks that guarantees high marks if actually executed but foretells an ignominious exit if not.

    But who needs a table when you’re a party of two? I’ve had plenty of nice drinks there perched in the narrow causeway leading to the raised platform in back. You do feel as though you’re drinking in a changing room but it’s intimate that way.

  5. 5
    Mark M on 24 May 2010 #

    As with say the French House, I’ve always assumed that the sheer lack of usable space at the Pillars is a substantial part of its legendary status (comfort and ease being dead bourgeois and that). And for me what that normally means in practice is (again, as with the French), you arrange to meet there and then end up going to somewhere sensible. It’s also rather tarnished by its associations with Hitchens/Amis/McEwan – although I guess the Lollards could be said to have reclaimed it for the forces of light.
    And although the whole pub over a road thing is good, it’s not as good as a pub with a passage, like the Newman.

  6. 6
    CarsmileSteve on 24 May 2010 #

    are there really better soho pubs? i can’t think of many. the dog and duck maybe, but that’s even smaller. i’m beginning to wonder if my like for a lot of these bouzers that others find a bit meh is due to my old habit (not so much these days) of being, often quite significantly, the first to the pub, so i had a chance to watch the pub go about its business rather than concentrating on whether there are enough seats for everyone etcetc.

    and definitely for a sunday post-lollards this was perfect, gin and hp sauce bloody marys, endless britpop cds and the little table at the front.

    and and we once saw [quick google] James out of Busted in there (i knew it wasn’t charlie and couldn’t remember the name of the one who went to the jungle, HOW SOON WE FORGET)

  7. 7
    Mark M on 24 May 2010 #

    Re 6: But actually, given the Pillars’ geographical spot, the alternative doesn’t have to be a Soho pub, strictly speaking. It could easily be the Bricklayers, or the Angel in St Giles, or the Phoenix…

  8. 8
    Pete on 24 May 2010 #

    Depending on your definition of Soho, potentially better pubs are The Ship, John Snow, Shaston Arms, Blue Posts Berwick St, Old Coffee House even the Black Lion on a good day (and a pub yet to come…). But that’s all on a good day, and this list is a specific FT experience centred list which is why this polled so well. I am just pleased we may have rescued it from the Amis/Hitchens axis.

    But that said what other pub can yo think of that had a book names after it (Clive James second book of collected essays / reviews) and doesn’t mention it anywhere in the pub.

    Note the Gin and HP sauce bloody mary did have tomato juice in it. And was awesome, eh Eli.

  9. 9
    Dexterdoss on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Staff just talk to their friends and the staff. No interest in customers.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page