Dirty Dick's – London, England - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Dirty Dick's

This pub boasts a curious history and may have inspired a Dickens character. 

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LOCATED JUST A STONE’S THROW from Liverpool Street station, this watering hole has an unusual moniker with a famous literary connection. When William Barker ran the establishment during the 19th century, the place was called The Old Jerusalem. One day, Barker decided to rename the establishment after a local character with a reputation for his poor hygiene. 

The disheveled gentleman in question was Richard Bentley—or Nathaniel, no one seems to be quite sure. Although originally from a respectable family, Bentley was said to have suffered an emotional breakdown after his fiancée died on their wedding day. He allegedly became so distraught that he refused to bathe or change his clothes. As it happens, he ran a business not far from The Old Jerusalem and it, too, reflected the downtrodden state of its owner. 

It has been suggested that Charles Dickens, who frequented The Old Jerusalem, based the character Miss Havisham from Great Expectations on Bentley. Eventually, he would retire and his business closed. It was then that William Barker purchased many of Bentley’s belongings and rechristened his pub “Dirty Dick’s.”

He really committed to the theme. A description from 1866 notes the bar’s “low ceiling, with festoons of cobwebs dangling from the black rafters” and that “everything [was] covered with virgin dust and cobwebs.” With this gimmick, Barker may be credited with creating one of the first theme bars.

Fast-forward around 150 years—and a serious deep clean—and the current establishment stores some of the relics from its grimier past in glass display cases. Here, a modern-day visitor may view a few select items, including several taxidermy animals. The street level bar also contains the brick and timber beams of the original institution.

Know Before You Go

Swing by on a Sunday for a traditional roast, which could be either aged sirloin, cider-braised pork belly, or a butternut squash Wellington.


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