Visiting Cormoran Strike’s Pub and Denmark Street Premises in London

eros1On my trip home from Swansea University in Wales, I had six hours on a Friday afternoon to see London. Which, of course, is absurd. I decided, though, to see one thing in London rather than lounging in the Heathrow hotel. I was going to see where Robin and Cormoran work, where he lives, and where they both have gotten drunk in their grief about lost loves. I jumped on the tube for Picadilly Circus.

The ride in was a delight and Picadilly was in its splendor this cool Friday afternoon. Tourists, local youth, and shoppers made the eight point intersection around the statue of Christian Charity (‘Eros’ to Robin and to most others) hum with activity and excitement. It was relatively easy to imagine Matt on one knee and Robin (and the bums) enjoying his proposal.

eros2Having started my London adventure where the Strike novels begin, more or less, I asked a bystander who looked as bemused and entertained as I felt how I could get to Charing Cross Road, my avenue to Denmark Street and Tottenham Pub. He told me he’d just use his phone to find out, with the hint of impatience suggesting I could use my Smart phone to do that myself. I held up my flip Dumb Phone and he nodded. Turns out he was a German tourist. I was from farther out-of-town, he confessed, and he pointed me down one of the many streets meeting at the statue from every point of the compass.

And off I went. It reminded me quite a bit of NYC’s Time Square but there were more open public spaces for busker musicians and street performers. Every intersection seemed to buzz with people eating and drinking and watching the magic before them. I was at Charing Cross in only a short walk, a busy avenue without any of the pedestrian openness of the Circus and environs.

cursed1I was excited to be approaching Cormoran’s street, home to his flat and his business premises. Thinking about the Peg-Legged Private Eye I was startled to be thrust back to earth by another piece of Rowling’s imaginative universe. The Palace Theatre in London’s West End, well, it’s three blocks from Strike’s digs. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ almost knocked me off my feet with the surprise I felt on stumbling over it on my way to something no one else was interested in.

But there was quite the crowd milling about the front of The Palace Theatre and the great majority were taking pictures of themselves standing in front of the over-sized signage and symbol of the play. I asked a young couple to take my picture and they were happy to oblige. They had me on distance traveled; they hailed from Australia and were very serious Harry Potter fans, they assured me.

d17I walked on, a little dazed from that bit of Potter Mania while in search of Rowling’s neglected hero’s home. And then there it was: Denmark Street.

Denmark Street just off Charing Cross Road is a peculiar avenue, odd even for the delightful interplay of architecture across centuries pervading London.

The building that Strikers believe are his premises and flat is number 26. For why they believe that, please take your first trip (it won’t be your last) to the Google Maps guide to Cormoran Strike’s London.

d6Number 26, the building with the black door and which formerly had a club on its ground floor (since moved 3 1/2 miles north) has the appearance of being abandoned and suitable for demolition. No joke. I think part of the roof may already have collapsed into the top floor.

The street, though, is something else. A jumping place!

The street isn’t even half a football pitch long, is narrow enough that traffic is one way (and slow moving as it intersects with the very busy Charing Cross), and none of the buildings can be less than two centuries old. I’d say more than one or two could be three hundred, easy.

d7I asked a young woman on a smoke break from a shop across Denmark Street from the seemingly abandoned 26 if she would take my picture in front of the black door. I told her it was the home of Cormoran Strike and explained who he is when she gave me a blank, suspicious stare. Harry Potter? Big fan. Cormoran who? The bloke you take your smoke breaks with!

d3And they’re almost all music shops! A majority of those are guitar stores, new and used, three stories tall, privately owned, selling guitars for decades. One website I read calls Cormoran’s home and business address “a centre of the British music industry.”

But the oddest thing? Right around the corner (and the streets aren’t on a grid, so Cormoran’s flat, if it is 26 Denmark Street, looks around the corner…), is St Giles in the Fields Church, Church of England.

St Giles’ is an amazing place. Took my breath away, truth be told, it was so unexpected and the interior so beautiful. Pictures here, history here. Not a mention in three books — and it’s ten steps from the Strike premises? Curious.

st-giles-3Ramshackle street of homey guitar stores and fronts in odd colors — to Georgian majesty. A string orchestra of ten players was practicing in the church when I stumbled in and they were playing period music fit for the church’s dedication (and playing very well indeed).

I vaguely recall some mention of the plague victims burial place in the Strike novels (or was it a novel set in Philadelphia with Small pox corpses buried beneath a park? memory…) but I don’t remember this neighboring church being mentioned as the landmark it is.

st-giles-4Robin’s guidebook at the story start would have been all about this at she tried to find the address… I’m glad ‘Cursed Child’ hadn’t opened or she would have been obliged to mention that.

I did go to The Tottenham Pub, too, now The Flying Horse. Even a one legged man could make it there in two minutes on a slow day. The pedestrian of one or two legs cannot fail to notice the skyscraper and parking garage construction all about in this area. Pneumatic drills? You betcha. And cranes and trucks — and a lot of noise. Just like the books.

horse1I had skipped lunch and it had been quite the day since my hurried breakfast in south Wales. I was really looking forward to a Doom Bar with fish and chips at Cormoran’s preferred pub. But it was not to be.

The lady behind the bar had never heard of Cormoran Strike — and, no, really it’s true, they don’t serve Doom Bar. And I was struck by the proportions of the place. It looked like someone had tried to perform an ‘inside bigger than the outside’ spell and sneezed so they got something like the reverse. Smaller and narrower than I imagined it, as in one third to one quarter the size I pictured.

horse2Beautiful, intimate, and no food (I didn’t go to the separate room and bar downstairs which, by name at least, was a different establishment; did Cormoran go downstairs?). I took my ale to the very back, about fifteen steps from the front, and introduced myself to an older couple. They were in from Kent for the day and more than happy to take my picture. I should have asked them to take all the pictures because the beer on my empty stomach drowned whatever photography skills I ever had.

horse8If Bluey raised his voice at the very back of this pub, they heard him in the street and everything would have stopped in between. 25 people in this place fills every seat and place to stand at the bar. The paintings and the ceiling light were just as described. The pub feel of neighborhood and privacy and clubbishness that Cormoran prizes in the Tottenham — I got it. Time to go home.

Walking with a nice buzz of ale and a mission accomplished, I meandered back down Charing Cross Road. I looked down one side street and, egad, The Mouse Trap, Agatha Christie’s landmark drama in St Martin’s Theatre. I ran down to and asked the lady at the ticket window how late that night’s performance went. Too late for me to be sure I could get back to Heathrow that night. Bummer.

church1And then I saw it. Another abandoned stone church from centuries past, this one on Charing Cross Road right where I’d turned off to walk into the Trap. I hadn’t noticed it on my way in or on my second trip by. The House of Black? This beautiful and once magnificent church was all but invisible now, surrounded by modern businesses with neon and inviting window displays. England was once a Christian country but no more. The museum piece of St Giles could not obscure the sarcophagi of the faith on every other avenue.

London confirmed what struck me again and again in Wales, where there were two empty or converted church buildings for every one that was active. On one side of a road on the walk back from the University into downtown Swansea there was a stone church that had been made into a mosque and Islamic Center. Immediately across the street from it, a cathedral sized building had chains around its gates and a sign that said it had been sold to a restaurant. My host told me the restaurant was zoned and approved to become a pole-dancing night club. A snap-shot of the fall of the West at one intersection.

foylesI window shopped and entered every book store, new and used, on my way back down Charing Cross and then to Picadilly and the Tube Station. That filled my afternoon wonderfully, if I dreaded the next day of travel with even more books. I picked up a copy of The Fellowship at Foyle’s, the F. A. O. Schwartz of book sellers and began to read it even as I walked about, trying not to look too much like a tourist, but unable not to marvel at the work a day majesty of the West End buildings, legacies of Imperial and Fin de siecle Londoners.

strike-fanI stopped at one of the many tourist trap shops, every one five or six times the size of the Tottenham Pub, in Picadilly for souvenirs my sons would enjoy. That took a while. I found just the things, though, to tie the bow on my perfect day in London in search of the Doom Bar Detective. Arsenal Football Club caps. Will anyone in Oklahoma City understand what the hat insignia mean? I doubt it, but the young Strike afficionados wear them proudly.

granger-potter-hoodie-orangeLots of Cormoran Strike news to come — the teevee shows will be on HBO, Robin Ellacott has been cast, et cetera, et cetera. I’ll be reporting it (or reading the post here) when I get back from CONjuration 2016 in Atlanta this weekend. If you’re still undecided about next week’s election — “Canada or Mexico?” — don’t forget that you can write in the names of heroes you love, if only as a protest.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. These images can be utilized in a valuable way by fans of the new series (and I’m pretty sure that’s what the Strike series is going to be even for longtime fans for quite a while).

    For one thing, the urban planning of Piccadilly and Charring Cross are interesting in that they all show holdovers not just from the Middle Ages, but also from more recent times such as the mid to late Sixties. For fans of that era, or just plain Classic Rock aficionados, the exteriors and storefronts of Cross and Circus would tend to put one in mind of the London Mod Music scene. This was an era in which bands like The Beatles and The Who could be found hanging out in places such as this.

    In fact, I now recall Ms. Rowling mentioning the Fab Four’s faces plastered on a shop marquee somewhere in that area in “The Silkworm”. At first glance, this seems like a throwaway detail, however an actual look at Strike’s main thoroughfare indicates it might be further bit of historical coloring, as a pointer to the kind of zeitgeist that used to inhabit that street.

    You didn’t happen to catch that Beatles marquee while you were there, did you Mr. Granger?

    In any case, what is interesting about al this is how it can potentially play in connection with a few of the typical Noir stylistic touches that Rowling employs in her Strike novels. Two scenes from “Cuckoo’s Calling” stand out in particular. One is the way she shadows the interview with Freddie Bestigui through slanted sunlight coming through the blinds of an office window. The other is the neon strobe lights that illuminate the penultimate scene. In both cases I was reminded of the kind of set up you might find in a Walter Hill movie, or else something Don Seigel might have done way back in the late 70s.

    Put the these elements together with the real life street settings and what you get is a interesting amalgam of Sixties Mod plus vintage Noir.

    This is all just a subjective impression, nothing more. However it does at least offer one among many possibilities as to how this series can be pictured.

  2. One can go and “walk” Denmark St on GoogleEarth or Google maps satellite–I feel like I’ve been there! Sadly, probably will never make it in real life.

  3. I loved reading this post! I’m headed to London next month and am definitely going to Denmark Street and to the Tottenham (flying horse, I guess). I really love these books and Cormoran is such a fantastic character. It was wonderful reading this since it’s obvious your love them as much as I do. Thanks!

  4. matthew says:

    His flat is at number 7 Denmark Street.

  5. You’re saying on the street itself the building is #7?

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