Sitting in Holborn like a spinster aunt's display cabinet is the Princess Louise, every visitor's idea of what a London pub should look like. The interior dates from 1891, and It's magnificent - a riot of etched glass, mahogany, mirrors, mouldings, tiles and brass. Some of the fittings are rumoured to be by Morris and Co. It's a bit like having a pint in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Even the gent's facilities are original and seperately listed. The pub is part of the Samuel Smith brewery's London estate. This mysterious company is Yorkshire's oldest brewer, never gives interviews and doesn't even have a website. They have a track record of looking after their properties - last year I was walking past another of their Holborn pubs, the Cittie Of Yorke, and two old chaps were applying gold leaf to the hanging sign. Everything they sell is own-brand, even the spirits. Their prices are laughably low - two pints of Old Brewery Bitter for less than four quid. It is believed there's no piped music so that the money saved from broadcast licenses is passed on to the customer. Last year, with no fanfare or even a press release Smith's decided to close the Louise for a six-month restoration - and what a great job they've done. The most obvious change is that partitions have been replaced - they were ripped out in the seventies as part of the mania for one-room pubs. Not everyone likes Sam Smith's beer, but I do. It tastes all the better knowing that the company is run by people who actually seem to give a damn about pub heritage.
*EDIT*: I was in the Cittie Of Yorke on Sunday - and their hanging sign is polished (burnished?) copper. So whatever those two old chaps were applying to it, it certainly wasn't gold leaf. But whatever they were doing was certainly very intricate, labour intensive and probably only learnt from a 15-year apprenticeship. It would surely given a bean-counter from a macrobrewery heartburn.