Why on earth would anyone suggest that I might like to visit a pub? I mean, why would someone I’ve never met suggest I might like to visit a pub? But that’s exactly what my ether-friend, Adrian, over on Google Plus did. Up he popped with a fine picture of what looked like a neat little boozer, the Two Chairmen in London. “Oh”, I commented, “That looks like a neat little boozer.” And Adrian came back with, “Maybe there’s a blog article there for you sometime in the future.” He went on to explain that this was one of the oldest pubs in Westminster, with an interesting history, situated opposite the notorious Cockpit Steps, just off Birdcage Walk - named for James I’s aviaries. Mind you, Adrian works in advertising so maybe he has an angle somewhere.
Anyway, I made a note of it because Adrian seems like a nice bloke and, in truth, I have been known to visit pubs – just for research purposes, you understand (pubs are nasty things, full of beer and temptation) – and I do find myself in London occasionally.
The Two Chairman is a short walk to the west of Parliament Square, in Dartmouth Street, which bisects Queen Anne’s Gate and Old Queen Street. It is indeed opposite Cockpit Steps, the alleged haunted site of the Royal Cockpit – an 18th century venue for cockfighting. A little off the beaten track, it’s a relatively peaceful, but handy, location to have a watering-hole: close to all of the capital’s Westminster attractions (and essentials such as New Scotland Yard and the Chilean Embassy) as well as being in a Disney-like area of London full of smart Regency town-houses – all big shiny doors, gloss-black wrought-iron, polished brass and door entry systems.
The pub gets its name from the chairmen who worked sedan chairs – single-seat carriages carried on poles by two strong men - taking their wealthy clients to the cockfighting and waiting in the pub for their next fare. The pub’s website claims that this practice might be the origin of the expression “cheerio”, because customers wanting a sedan chair would shout, “Chair Ho”. Actually, from what I can make out, “Cheerio”, meaning “good wishes”, “goodbye” or used as a toast, comes from joining “cheery” with “O!”.
There’s a belief, dating back to at least the early 19th century, that sedan chairs originated in the French town of Sedan. In fact, chairs supported by poles, canopied or otherwise, have been used in various cultures in Europe and the Far East since ancient times. They became popular in Britain from the late 17th century and the name is more likely to be derived from the Latin verb sedere, to sit.
All that aside, I did engineer a visit to the Two Chairman. We came upon it via Whitehall and St James’s Park and found it to be an unpretentious, traditional, London pub, clearly frequented by a number of regulars; I liked it very much. It is no quaint village hostelry, but then neither is it a brash, soulless, bar – though, unfortunately, it does have a TV. Most importantly, it serves good beer; just to be sure, I had several pints of London Pride (which seemed to improve with each glass) and I’m advised that the Merlot was pretty decent too. It being lunch time, we felt it only right to try the food – which was of the no-nonsense pub grub variety, tasty and plentiful. We had fish and chips, steak and ale pie and chicken pie – I should add that there were three of us. The service was cheerful and friendly and, despite the fact that the place was doing a brisk trade, everything arrived promptly. I will be back. One day, though, I will find out why it is that loos in the basements of older pubs in London all seem to exude a similar aroma to that of a river estuary at low tide…
Just to see what other people thought of the Two Chairmen, I had a quick look on Trip Advisor and saw one comment about it really only being suitable for adults. I have to agree, but would need to ask what sort of masochist would want to take children to a grown-up pub anyway? Family-friendly is all very well, but it’s a different market; and, personally, the last thing I want when I’m enjoying a jar and a bit of conversation is a load of screaming kids running amok. I would have thought one of the selling points for the Two Chairman is that it is not a typical tourist pub.
So, well done Adrian. Who says Google Plus doesn’t work?
If you’re desperate for more information, visit the Two Chairmen’s website. The nearest tube station is St James’s Park – District (Green) and Circle (Yellow) lines, but Westminster – District, Circle and Jubilee (grey) lines – is pretty close too.
PS I’d like to confess that I have been paid a modest fee of £2,000 plus expenses to write this article and feature it on A Bit About Britain but, regrettably, that would be untrue.