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I went to the world’s smallest bar room and it was full of history, tasty food and massive disappointment.
The Dove in London’s Hammersmith has, according to Guinness World Records, the smallest bar room in the world.
Legend has it, it’s where Rule Britannia! was written, great literary figures like Ernest Hemingway and William Morris mingled and King Charles II often wined and dined his mistress.
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To say I was buzzing was an understatement and not even the grim wet Wednesday weather could deflate my mood as I approached.
As I sauntered along the Thames I could already imagine the pictures for this piece, funny little snaps with my knees pressed up to my chin and another pub-lover’s elbow blocking half the frame.
I thought of how perfect my Guinness (in a Guinness World Record holding venue!) would taste, packed up in the cosy confines of a sardine tin bar with raucous conversations pinging around the room like popped corks as cheeks rosied and strangers became friends.
Dripping wet I walked up the narrow alley to get into the early 18th-century pub and pushed through the ancient door as excitement crackled for the cosy tourism advert for British boozers I had in mind.
What met me was altogether different.
As I creaked inside a lone, softly-spoken barman walked down from the restaurant to meet me.
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How a pub boasting the smallest bar room in the world could have a restaurant in it was mystifying, as it dawned on me I too was standing in a decently-sized room with a fireplace and four tables each with multiple seats.
Ordering my Guinness (sadly a shoddy pour) I opted for the strangest thing I could see on the menu – onion soup with truffle oil – and asked, looking at the room, if this was the smallest bar in the world.
As he shook his head and pointed over to the door I’d just come through it dawned on me that the “smallest bar room in the world” didn’t actually mean the entire establishment, but rather a small room inside the main entrance around the other side of where the staff worked.
In other words, this was a full-sized pub with a restaurant, a riverside terrace and a bar divided into two, one side of which was just very little.
It really is a tiny room with just two high stools next to their own private bit of bar and a little plaque on the wall that marked the height of a flood in 1928.
It’s a great little spot for you and one other to get the pub atmosphere without anyone else around, but I couldn’t shake my feeling of disappointment.
Through absolutely no fault at all of The Dove, I felt sad and let down that something I had built up in my head to be so impractically brilliant was in fact so nonsensical that it didn’t exist at all.
How stupid could I be to hold on to a dream that King Charles II, Ernest Hemmingway and the bloke from Rule Britannia! would all be sitting three-to a stool making merry? Was that too much to ask?
A red mist of anger and embarrassment building inside me I stormed out of the world’s smallest bar room and went and sat in the normal-sized bit of the pub.
By the fire three older blokes who looked like they all owned umbrellas sat discussing the issues of the day.
“The Labour Party just won’t allow any change on the way the NHS is delivered,” one of them snorted.
“I don’t know many working-class people,” his mate said moments later. “There’s my newsagent, I suppose.”
As I started to wish I didn’t have ears two younger blokes walked in and ordered a glass of red wine each.
As they sat down my soup came. Still cold from the rain I wolfed it down.
I don’t really know what it was or what made it white but it was absolutely delicious, a perfect warmer on a cold, soggy day.
As I slurped down the final spoonful the two younger blokes toasted one of their birthdays as his mate handed over a present.
“This is my happy place,” the birthday boy said.
Floorboards creaked and outside the rain poured down. As my Guinness started to land in the bloodstream I imagined pirates, boisterous from plundering merchant ships at the mouth of the Thames, spilling into The Dove.
Looking around I saw how its black wood walls were chipped from countless nights of making merry with sloshing beer glasses and steamy windows.
As the two mates enjoyed this ancient pub I thought of the thousands who had passed through before them for who this too was a happy place.
Suddenly it dawned on me that there was more to life than the world’s smallest bar.
This is a beautiful old boozer still holding on to its identity in the face of bland boilerplate drinking venues and is clearly important to people some 300 years after it was first built.
As I finished my pint my rage at the establishment’s size faded and a strong feeling of love for the ancient place began flooding in.
Outside the rain cleared up, birds began to sing and, just as a smile began to sneak onto my face, one of the posh old blokes in the corner scoffed: “My friend in the oil industry gave the Liberal Democrats some money!”
Well, nowhere’s perfect, I suppose.
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- King Charles III
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